Oti Agyemang Prempeh recalls the time in 2017 he found the courage to talk to his father about living with depression and anxiety.”Even if I couldn’t tell him, that ‘by the way, I tried to kill myself two days ago’ I wanted to tell him that I am going through some things and I just really need you to be there for me in any way that you can,” the 26-year-old says, solemnly.When Prempeh was 12, his parents’ marriage ended and his mother moved to the United States. Even though he was still in regular contact with her, he says he felt abandoned.
“As time went on, [that feeling] became anger and at the same time, I started to withdraw from people; I became less social,” he says. “The first thing I started struggling with was social anxiety. I would panic in social situations or even worse, I would avoid interacting with people.”
In university, it got very bad. “It was anxiety with episodes of depression where I just didn’t want to do anything. I wasn’t going to class; I wasn’t trying to see anybody, I would just stay in my room all day.” “I ended up basically failing my first year of university, I had to take it all over again,” he says. With the help of his girlfriend, he managed to get back on track and completed a degree in banking and finance in 2017. But after graduating, their relationship ended.
“This sent me down another spiral. That was when I think my anxiety was the worst it had ever been.” He was also unemployed at the time and all his bottled up emotions overflowed and led to a near breaking point.
‘I did not want to be vulnerable’
But Prempeh’s conversation with his father about his mental health did not go as planned. “He just kept on saying I should pray more and that the next weekend, I should come to church with him and that once I accept Christ as my Lord and personal saviour, all these things will go away. It made me pretty sad, it was disappointing,” says Prempeh, who identifies as an atheist.He opened up about the incident to his friends, and one of them told him about a clinic run by a non-governmental organisation where he could sign up for talking therapy – a form of treatment which involves patients engaging in open discussions about their thoughts and feelings with a licensed psychologist. Another friend stayed with Prempeh over the weekend and then drove him to the clinic the next Monday. The sessions “actually helped; being able to talk and say things out loud,” he now says, even though he was initially hesitant to attend.
“I think a part of me didn’t want to be vulnerable in front of another man who I don’t know. But [the therapist] was a kind, young man, not much older than I was, and he was just very reassuring. He never made me feel like I was silly, stupid or being melodramatic about everything that was happening to me,” he says.
But at 120 cedis ($20) per session, Prempeh – unemployed at the time – was only able to afford three sessions.
Even for those with a job, mental healthcare comes at a high cost. The minimum monthly wage in Ghana is 320 cedis ($55), and Ghana’s national health insurance scheme does not cover the cost of talking therapies and many other treatments for mental health conditions.
There is also a shortage in the number of qualified practitioners in the country. There are currently 538 counsellors and psychologists licenced by the Ghana Psychology Council to practice in a country with a population of about 30 million.
*The views of the above article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Africa Speaks 4 Africa or its editorial team.