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In Gratitude Of Our (Imperfect) Mental Health System

Whilst we are often quick to lament the shortfalls of Medicare and our mental health system, I recently gained a new perspective on this after volunteering in several of Ghana's mental health facilities. Some interesting facts and observations of their mental health system:

  • There are only 25 Psychiatrists in the entire country (population: 29 million).

  • Almost exclusively psychiatric nurses staff the mental health system; they do everything from assessment and diagnosis through to treatment.

  • Treatment is generally limited to the administration of older style anti-psychotics and anti-depressants.

  • Treatment will usually occur in a room full of trainee nurses, and in our case, another six Westerners. Ie: approximately 12 staff in a room to interview and assess a single client. In the second, larger, hospital that I visited, there were 5-6 assessments happening concurrently in a much larger room, meaning about 30 trainee nursing staff, as well as other patients, are all able to see and hear your psychiatry session.

  • Few patients are offered psychological intervention, and still fewer actually receive a course of psychological treatment.

  • There is no private-practice facility for Ghanaians to seek out Psychological treatment.

  • Treatment of any sort is often hampered by belief systems that may lead sufferers of mental health conditions to be sent away to prayer camps or simply chained (physically or metaphorically) to their homes.

This last point is particularly salient. The Ghanaians who sat outside in the blistering sun waiting to be seen by a room full of strangers were actually the lucky ones!

So as I return to Australia and re-engage in my therapeutic work I am grateful for:

  • A publicly-funded health and mental health system

  • The accessibility to private practice Psychologists

  • Access to Medicare rebates, even if these do not cover the duration of required treatment

  • Confidentiality and strict guidelines around ensuring this

  • Progressive understanding of the causes of mental illness and the value of psychological therapy in helping people to manage difficult emotions, challenge and restructure unhelpful thinking and change their behaviour such that they can be the healthiest and best version of themselves

Given the above I have returned to True North Psychology with a renewed vigour for the work that we do and gratitude for the tools and the means to do this.

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