MEHSOG demands inclusion of service users on Mental Health Board

Koforidua, Oct 15, GNA - The Mental Health Society of Ghana (MEHSOG) and the Alliance for Mental Health, are calling on the Ministry of Health to include mental health service users in the Mental Health Authority (MHA) governing board.

The duo advocacy groups, in a petition dated 11th October, is of the conviction that taking into account a service user on the Board would make the board truly inclusive and devoid of discrimination and exclusion.

The petition authored by Ms Esenam Drah, Project Coordinator, MEHSOG and made available to the Ghana News Agency on Thursday, urged the Health Minister, Kwaku Agyeman Manu, to treat their plea as a matter of urgency.

The demand is in line with Section Four of Ghana’s Mental Health Law (Act 846 2012), which allows the Minister of Health to nominate three non-governmental persons to the 11-member Board.

“We believe that you will grant this petition given that our request is timely; it is within your domain as Minister of Health to do so; and it is in line with the relevant section of the Mental Health Law,” it said.

“We are confident that the announcement of the Governing Board will include at least one service user.”

It added, “As the formation of the board looks imminent after nearly ten months following the dissolution of the previous one, we find it prudent to write to you as minister to ask you to ensure inclusiveness when constituting the new governing board.

“We ask that the governing board should include service users because they are very critical stakeholders in mental health and that every effort be made to avoid discrimination and unequal treatment.

“It is the position of MEHSOG, a service user advocacy and policy influence organization, with members across the country, that taking action on this petition will help to remove public perception that policy makers are not keen to integrate the needs of service users in health system development.”

It said there was a growing interest in the involvement of service users in health system issues, which the petitioners believed the collaboration with users would provide key inputs to the health system to deliver quality services that meet their needs.

Increasing service user leadership by way of representation on the governing board, the petition noted, would ensure equal access of service users onto the board and further foster inclusionary practices within mental health services in Ghana.

Mental health service user involvement in decision making could be an important strategy for advocacy and improving service delivery.

Besides, it said, the involvement of service users on the board would help improve the responsiveness of the MHA to respect the actual needs of the users and reduce stigma.

And that the phrase “Nothing about Us without Us” ignited a vision for people with disabilities (PWDs) that represent pride and power rather than stigma and pity.

It also noted, the disability community was an empowering and uplifting community that unites and works for the rights and dignity of PWDs and the phrase reinforced the possibilities for them to be meaningfully included in every type of organization and institution and to have a valued voice in every facet of daily life.

It said there could not be any discussions concerning the mental health service users without including them, saying: “Indeed, service users are those who patronize services and can make contributions or inputs into discussions that can change the face of mental health in Ghana, and not people who have not used the service before”.

“Therefore, in submitting this petition, we take the hopeful view that the other governing board members who will walk alongside the service user(s) who we trust you will nominate to the board to, among other things, challenge the institutional and other structures that perpetuate stigma and discrimination towards service users,” the petition said.

The groups indicated that it was convinced that the governing board of the MHA could be the starting place for social inclusion and source of increased personal power.

“The personal power which is regarded as an integral part of social inclusion should provide service users with the self-confidence to make choices in their daily lives.

“It will also help them contribute to decision-making whilst serving on the governing board,” it added.

MEHSOG said it would be a very strong moral case for the Ministry to support service user involvement in the management of mental health in Ghana.

This, it said would help remove structural barriers, including stigma and low funding challenging mental health service delivery, and that accepting the petition could be a huge step forward towards effective engagement of users in mental health systems strengthening in Ghana.