COVID-19; “NOT A DEATH SENTENCE,” – Dr Akwasi Osei, CEO, Mental Health Authority

COVID-19; “NOT A DEATH SENTENCE,” – Dr Akwasi Osei, CEO, Mental Health Authority

 “Everyone is vulnerable to mental health problems”- Dr. Akwasi Osei


The United Nations has highlighted the urgent need for huge investment in mental health services amid the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. It suggests that failure to do so means the world stands the chance of experiencing a massive increase in mental health conditions in few months to come. Currently, the pandemic is seen to be having serious impact on mental well-being of people across the globe. As such, the organization has indicated that due to multiple stressors generated by the current pandemic, people who previously coped well with stress are less able to cope.

Narrowing the current findings into Ghana’s perspective, The Vaultz news in an interview with Dr Akwasi Osei, CEO of Mental Health Authority and Former Medical Director of Accra Psychiatric Hospital, he stated that the looming mental health crises is of course applicable everywhere- worldwide including Ghana.

Presently, the number of cases have been rising exponentially and causing fear and panic among citizens in the country, thus traumatizing everyone and resulting in mental health crises. Addressing the mental health implications the pandemic has on people, Dr Akwasi Osei indicated that, “to be forewarned is to be forearmed and so once we have been forewarned then we have to take the necessary steps to prepare ourselves”

According to him, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations (UN) have all said that we are heading towards a major crisis which is equally true, however, “we seem to have been worrying so much about how to contain the virus and that’s true because that poses the immediate danger since you must be alive before looking at complications. Having known how to contain it, somehow, you now need to know how you will manage the post-COVID episode”.

He stated that “even within the COVID-times we have begun to have mental health issues that we seem not to be prepared for. The Fear, the panic, the pandemonium that arise out of it and we seem not to be prepared.  And then the stigma and discrimination; these are all mental health issues”.

Dr Akwasi Osei cited an instance where a woman in Ghana called him that she was just about to kill herself because she has seen her two kids show symptoms of the Coronavirus and does not know how to cope with that condition.

“So, I had to counsel her to understand that, to start with, the symptoms you are thinking your children are having do not necessarily mean that they have COVID. And two, even if they have, it’s not a death sentence, so you just need to take your time lets prove it by simply going to have them tested. If they test it and they are positive then we know the next steps but even then, like I said, it’s not a death sentence. If they test them and they are negative, then you know you panicked for no reason. She came down, she stopped the suicidal behaviour; she went for testing and they came out negative”.

According to him, if she had not had that thought to seek help, she would have committed suicide.  The lady according to him got his number from a nurse after she had gone there to seek help. But the question is: how many people would have that thought to seek help during life threatening situations like this?

He stated further that, “now what is even coming out but which is not exactly established is that the virus even attacks the central nervous system. Now people are talking of the various human organs been affected by the virus. Some people are saying the virus attacks the blood system, cause stroke and a whole lot of things and so not only the respiratory system but variously– the virus is having several effects on the human body. Even right now we are having an increase episode of mental health: mild, moderate to severe”.

Now after this, the obvious effect which he referred to as Post COVID Traumatic Stress Disorder will happen as a result of isolation, social distancing and others leading in some cases to permanent separation all of which will result in mental health issues. People losing their jobs, the economic hardships coming in and therefore problems with finances will lead to mental health problems, depression and suicide. These are things that will surely come up and we need to recognize them.

As a result of the complications of people getting the corona virus, and the stigmatization and isolation that come along with it, people may take to substance abuse, alcohol use and other substances, that’s also a possibility.


Who are the most vulnerable?

According to him, generally, everyone is vulnerable to mental health problems. But some people are more vulnerable than others. One of these group of people are the poor, because when the rich develop mental health problem, they can easily obtain care because they have the ability to pay for the services. The poor person on the other hand may not get the care when he develops a mental health problem. So, obviously the poor in the lower economic group are always at a higher risk.

 “Everyone is vulnerable to mental health problems”- Dr. Akwasi Osei

Also, people who are already pre-disposed to substance abuse; the youth because of peer pressure, those who are jobless may try to survive on and are thinking so much. All these people are at risk. 

People with pre-conditioned mental health problems can get their conditions worsened in the light of the social pressures that are coming from the outbreak of the pandemic.

To manage this vulnerability, he indicated the need for more education in addition to structures to support them. This education may go beyond just talking to people but also training them to be more resolute. These are measures that are needed to be put in place to manage the problem.


How do we prevent this looming mental health crises?

Dr Akwasi Osei revealed “we need to put in place the necessary mental health measures based on the understanding we have so that we can contain it”. He cited an example of the earlier announcement made by the president to construct 94 hospitals of which no mention was made of a mental health hospital. So, if we are expecting an increase in mental health problems after the pandemic then we need to prepare. We need to put up facilities and structures for mental health as a matter of urgency in line with the call made by the UN for massive investment in mental health.