This amazing opportunity gives you an insight into how psychiatric services operate in Ghana today.
Ghana’s mental health sector is funded primarily by the government. Its psychiatric services stem back to the early 19th century where patients who suffered from mental health illnesses would be detained in prisons. This slowly developed into a ‘lunatic asylum’ created under legislation passed in 1888 that would see those suffering with psychiatric illnesses being placed here.
1904 saw the first purposeful psychiatric hospital built in Ghana accommodating 200 patients to start with. Despite ongoing expansions being made to the hospital in the years onwards from this, frequent overcrowding remained a continuing issue.
For the fifty years from the late 1920s, key players in the Ghana mental healthcare system began to address key issues that were prevalent in the sector and address them accordingly. Extensive amendments were made to hospital buildings with rapid expansions in staff training and recruitment. From the 1950s innovative treatments for psychiatric illnesses such as ‘chlorpromazine’ and ‘electroconvulsive’ therapy began to emerge more prevalently. Patients were removed from chains and isolation between patients became discouraged. Staff were now refrained from punishing patients as previously had been a norm as knowledge and understanding began to increase in and around mental health and the issues associated with it.
Despite such advances, many citizens in Ghana still believed and practised in the traditional forms of psychiatric treatment. Many patients or their relatives would still opt for a traditional or herbal form of treatment such as visiting shrines, herbalist centres or prayer camps that would be relatively more accessible and inexpensive. Even though psychiatric services have been rooted in Ghana for over a century, there remains a widely held belief that mental health illnesses remain caused by supernatural evil forces that are best exiled by traditional medicine methods.
Nevertheless government policy in the long term remains to establish and expand psychiatric facilities in all regional and district hospitals. Part of this saw training courses developed in the 1970s to create registered mental nurses (RMNs) and community psychiatric nurses (CPNs). Government and University collaboration with a Danish NGO in 1994 saw funding and expertise in the training programme for CPNs and medical assistants in the Northern and Upper regions of Ghana expanded and accelerated. Two university psychiatric departments in Accra and Kumasi had been developed to offer out-patient clinical services, in addition to teaching and research work as government policy attempted to normalise, ingrain and mainstream up to date psychiatric services into the primary healthcare.
However the reality is a lot more needs to be done to achieve this even today. With a population of over 26 million, Ghana only has 13 practising psychiatrists in the public service. Inadequate staffing in general remains a recurrent problem with occupational therapists, social workers and CPNs all hard to come by. Traditional healers who can bring with them inhumane treatment methods remain prevalent in Ghana today. It is estimated that around 2.5 million people in Ghana currently suffer from some form of mental health illness.
The mental health and psychology placement in Ghana is designed to give you an insight into how psychiatric services operate in Ghana today and gain a deeper understanding to the history and developments of Ghana mental healthcare. Public education plays a leading role today in helping to overcome widely held traditional myths about mental illnesses and encouraging patients and relatives to seek early professional and alternative treatment.
Such alternative treatments focus in areas such as occupational therapies and community outreach programmes. Volunteers on the Ghana mental health programme will spend time on their programme involving themselves with such programmes. This is directly in line with the new mental health act passed in 2012 that aims to combat the stigma and discrimination associated with mentally ill people in Ghana that remains widespread and doing so via a more community-based approach as oppose to a previous institutional model that existed.
The mental health experience is based in the Tafo District at the Tafo Government hospital. The hospital incorporates 2 clinical psychiatric unit departments, an experienced psychiatric doctor and community psychiatric nurses. There is also a chance to spend time at the psychiatric wing at Manhyia hospital across your placement too. The friendliness and willingness of these healthcare professionals together with their high levels of English at both of these hospitals means they are always on hand to answer your questions and describe consultations clinically.
Essential Programme Information
As for all our volunteer programmes in Ghana, it is possible to combine multiple projects during your time with us. If this is something you’d like to do, then please apply for the main programme you’d like to take part in but also outline in your online application the details of the other projects you’d like to do. Our local team will finalise the details of your placements during your in-country orientation.
For the majority of our programmes you can apply at any time. However, we advise that you apply as soon as possible to ensure we have availability on the programme – particularly if you’re looking to travel between June and August, as spaces can fill up very quickly during this period.
It is best that you apply sooner rather than later as some of our programmes only have a limited capacity and spaces get filled very quickly.
Can I use this program as part of a university or college placement?
It is certainly possible to use one of PMGY’s programmes as part of your university or college placement. Project staff can sign off any paperwork required by your course tutors. PMGY regularly receives medical, childcare, psychology and nursing placement students at our projects around the world and we have ties with some of the leading universities.
If you’re a course tutor and would like further information about how one of PMGY’s programmes could meet the placement requirements for your degree course then please contact us directly.
Is it safe to travel to PMGY destinations?
Although our volunteers work in the developing world, we always ensure our host locations are safe. Each programme has been extensively researched and has passed our strict vetting process. Our UK team undergo an extensive routine when establishing our in-country infrastructures and we continue to monitor our safety procedures on a regular basis. Furthermore, we monitor the stability of our volunteer destinations on a daily basis. Through our constant contact with consulates and embassies and our reports from our overseas teams, we are able to ensure that our volunteers are never placed in unstable regions.
The PMGY team have visited and participated in every programme we offer and verified them based on our own independent criteria. We carefully inspect every little detail of our set-up. From inspecting the living conditions, checking out the neighbourhoods you’ll be staying in, to tasting the food you’ll be eating – each and every programme we establish has gone through a lengthy and rigorous vetting process. Risk assessments have been written for all areas in which PMGY operate and our experienced local coordinators are always on-hand to manage any emergencies that may occur. Our UK team are always on the road reviewing our risk management procedures in the field and monitoring local conditions.
In emergency situations we have the necessary protocols and equipment in place and we are able to evacuate our volunteers from potential dangers. Our local coordinators are trained to deal with emergency circumstances.
When you join PMGY we will send you a Volunteer Handbook. This document addresses a range of issues such as health, safety, visa issues etc. Furthermore, our UK team are only ever a phone call away should you wish to discuss any aspect of your upcoming programme. When you arrive in-country, you’ll be given a comprehensive safety briefing during your orientation course by our local coordinators. We will go through everything from emergency procedures, how to use local transport and cultural differences. You’ll also be given the opportunity to purchase a local SIM card, something we strongly suggest, so you’re contactable at all times. We will provide you with a full list of the important contact numbers that you’ll need to know.
All our local teams are experienced development professionals who have years of experience in hosting international volunteers. They are our representatives on the ground and will assist you 24/7 throughout your stay. Whether you need to call home, travel at the weekend or require urgent assistance – they are there to support you.
While we cannot guarantee your volunteer experience to be 100% trouble free we have taken all the necessary precautions to make sure each programme is as safe as possible.
On your first day at the project the community nurses will be on hand to give a talk with you around the psychiatric history and development that Ghana has experienced.
Across your time on the experience, will go on to learn the processes involved that the doctors and nurses go through when undergoing consultations with psychiatric patients. This includes assessing patient records, evaluating any progresses, measuring any diagnoses and prescribing any relevant medicines. The doctor will talk through with you generally the different ways in which they take care of patients suffering from mental health issues. There will be ongoing opportunities for you to assist in such health education procedures throughout.
Part of the mental health experience will see you embark on our community outreach programme that is led by psychiatric qualified nurses and worked in partnership with Tafo Hospital. This will involve mental health talks in communities and schools, reaching out direct to people in the community suffering from psychiatric issues and performing home visits to persons who have been to the hospital with mental health diagnosis and checking up on their progress and wellbeing.
Results of the outreach programme are updated accordingly in reports and presentations that you will be assisting in. Please note that the outreach programme usually runs on an ad hoc basis and is dependent on the number of patients at the time.
Please note this programme has been specially designed for those already studying or looking to further study psychology/mental health and may not be appropriate or applicable for those outside this. If you are wanting to gain an insight and awareness into mental health in a new environment and culture then this programmes aims to provide you with such an opportunity to do so within a community setting.
Your level of hands-on involvement is dependent on your experience, duration of programme and willingness to get involved. The doctors will assess your capabilities and assign responsibilities accordingly. Those with little or no medical experience will assume a largely observational role. If you are studying medically related degree, then you should have more opportunity to undertake some more basic hands-on involvement if you choose to. However, please note we can never guarantee hands-on experience, as the decision ultimately lies with the medical staff and is not something actively encouraged from our side.
PMGY volunteers are based in a friendly neighbourhood of Ghana’s second city, Kumasi. The volunteer house is a 45-minute drive into Kumasi city centre, which is still dripping with Ashanti traditions and has some interesting sights.
Kumasi is still the heart of Ashanti country and the site of West Africa’s largest cultural centre, the palace of the Ashanti king. The city is surrounded by rolling green hills and has a vast and vibrant central market.
Close to the market is the city’s National Cultural Centre which encompasses a museum of Ashanti history and you can even try your hand at traditional dance and drumming classes!
KUMASI (KEJETIA) CENTRAL MARKET
One of the largest markets in West Africa with up to 11,000 stalls and four times as many people working there, this throbbing market is utterly captivating. Just 30 minutes from your PMGY base this chaotic and buzzing spot is a labyrinth of stalls selling everything you could ever want and quite a few things you didn’t! Definitely worth a visit.
BOABENG FIEMA MONKEY SANCTUARY
The people in Boabeng and Fiema consider the monkeys to be sacred and in the 70s actually came together to pass a law prohibiting causing harm to the monkeys. The sanctuary holds about 400 Colobus and Mona monkeys. They come into the village all the time to steal things, but as the people are not allowed to hurt them, they simply get away with it!
The guides at the sanctuary will take you on a tour of the rainforest and local village, where you will see monkeys everywhere. There is also a monkey cemetery in the forest, where the priests of the village have been buried alongside monkeys that have passed away.
A popular retreat for volunteers at the weekend looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Kumasi. The lakeside area has a range of decent, inexpensive hotels that you can go to for a night or two. You can take a boat trip, go swimming, or just chill out by the lake.
BEACHES & SURFING
Not far from Cape Coast you’ll find no shortage of great beaches such as Anomabo, Elimina and Busua.
And if you fancy your hand at surfing then Busua is a small, laid back coastal village with surfing at its heart. As surf destinations go, Busua really is a frontier town: it’s home to the only two surf shops in Ghana, and almost every one of the country’s surfers live in the village. Not that there are very many of them.
With gentle waves, warm water and an absence of sharks, the beach is an alluring proposition for anyone looking to learn to surf in a tropical destination off the usual circuit. It is perfect for beginner to intermediate surfers, but the more experienced can make easy trips along the coast to find more challenging and potentially unridden waves.
KAKUM NATIONAL PARK
From Cape Coast, it is highly advised that you take a day-trip to Kakum National Park.
All volunteers must arrive into Accra on the Sunday. You should book your flights into Kotoka International Airport in Accra (airport code ACC). The airport pickup is available 24 hours. Please note that if you arrive before the set Sunday start date then you are responsible for arranging your accommodation and time in Ghana until we collect you on the Sunday.
A member of our local team will be waiting for you when you arrive at the airport holding a Plan My Gap Year sign. You will be taken straight to our partner hostel near the airport. The journey will take around 20 minutes and will allow you to gather your first glimpses of this amazing country.
The rest of the day is yours to spend relaxing and getting to know your fellow volunteers. Meals on the Sunday arrival date are NOT included, so please budget between £5 to £10 for this.
Your first night in Ghana will be spent at a hostel near to Kotoka International Airport in Accra. Our partner hostel offers basic but comfortable accommodation. You will share a room with fellow volunteers. Rooms are air conditioned here. A member of the PMGY Ghana team will also stay at the hostel to ensure you have 24/7 support and will travel with you to Kumasi the following day.
During your time with PMGY in Ghana you will live in our Volunteer House located in a friendly neighbourhood, 45 minutes drive from Kumasi city centre. You will find restaurants, convenience stores and ATMs in the centre of town. There is a small shop opposite the Volunteer House. The local community are extremely friendly. As soon as you step out of the house you’ll be greeted by smiling children! Just one of the amazing experiences you’ll have with PMGY in Ghana.
The accommodation is basic but comfortable with free Wi-Fi. Each room has bunk beds with up to 6 people per room in same-sex rooms. Volunteers are provided with fans in the room and their own mosquito net and bed linen. Bathrooms are shared, have a shower and western style toilet. The water is cold but this shouldn’t be a problem as Ghana is hot all year-round!
The house has free Wi-Fi (although intermittent) and a communal area for volunteers to hang out. There is a lounge, TV and DVD player and an outside seating area. Volunteers are welcome to use the kitchen to prepare meals or even help out when meals are being prepared. We also have a refrigerator where you can store your personal food items but please remember this is dependent on electricity and power cuts can be a frequent occurrence in Ghana!
Clothes can be hand-washed or you request a local maid to wash them for you. Living in the PMGY Volunteer House offers a great social experience. Volunteers are given their own privacy and locks to their rooms, so it is a very laid-back atmosphere.
A member of our local team will also live at the house. The house is gated and secure and our local coordinator lives on-site ensuring you have around the clock support and security.
Please note that power cuts and water shortages are very common in Ghana. Whilst we have backup measures to combat this, there maybe times where the power cuts out or there is no water for a while so its important to be aware of this in advance.
During our busiest months (June to September) you may be placed at alternative accommodation. This could be a nearby guesthouse or one of our summer Volunteer Houses.
Volunteers will be provided with breakfast, lunch and dinner every day during their time with PMGY. Breakfast and dinner are served at the Volunteer House, whereas for lunch we provide you with a packed lunch or the project may provide you with lunch.
Pork, lamb and beef are difficult to source in Ghana and usually quite expensive. The main meat is chicken, fish and goat. There is also a real lack of fresh dairy products, so you should be prepared to live without milk and cheese etc. Most milk is tinned.
There are a number of western restaurants around a 45 minute drive out from the accommodation should you fancy picking up some home comforts. There are also some Chinese and Indian restaurants in Kumasi. Our local team will tell you all about the options available to you during your in-country orientation.
Please note most meals will incorporate lots of carbs and not so much dairy or meat compared to the UK so please be open minded around this! It may take you a few days for your body to accustom to the local food as well.
* Please inform us in your application if you have any dietary requirements. Furthermore, meals on the Sunday arrival date are NOT included, so please budget between £5 to £10 for this.