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Josephine Osei

Community Mental Health Officer

 

"I want to help those in the community, help with education of mental health. Mental health is neglected, that’s why I chose to do it, that’s why it excites me."

Determined Josephine Osei was not going to let taunts from friends and a mother’s worries stop her dream of improving the life chances of the mentally unwell in her homeland.

The stigma of a mental health problem remains strong in Ghana, with even her mother concerned she could be subjected to violent attack.

Josie, as she is known, also had to endure teasing from friends, who said she would become ‘abodamfo’ (mad) due to her still-unusual career choice.

Josie has appeased her worried mother, persuaded her friends of the vital work she is carrying out, and is making a real difference to those who previously received no service at all.

She is part of an annual cohort of 164 Kintampo Trust graduates - Community Mental Health Officers, like her, and Clinical Psychiatry Officers - now making a real difference to the lives of those affected by mental illness in Ghana.

Josie, now in her 30's, says: "At first my family were really annoyed when I told them what I was doing, especially my mother.

"But I explained to them that that’s what I wanted to do, and they were eventually okay with it.

"My friends used to tease me as well, but I ignored them, as I knew what I wanted to do. They said to me that they (clients) will be violent towards you, that they will harm you and destroy you."

Josie worked for five years as a Community Health Officer, before embarking on the Kintampo Project's pioneering programme to establish mental health services in previously under resourced outposts in Ghana.

She graduated in 2011, and holds a caseload of clients with epilepsy and other mental health conditions, covering an area of about 50km around the Juaso district of Ghana.

Based in a hospital with physical health practitioners, when Josie initially started there in September 2011 there was no mental health service at all. She has since been joined by a Community Psychiatric Nurse and another Kintampo Project graduate, and each of them sees up to seven people a day, often having to travel by motorbike to rural communities where there are no proper roads.

As well as casework, Josie spends her time on health promotion and talks to traditional healers to try and improve understanding about mental health issues. She and her colleagues go into churches and schools to inform families of those who have experienced mental ill-health about their service.

"People still believe that, for example, epilepsy is a curse, and I help people to understand that it’s not a curse, but an illness.

"I started as a health worker as there were a lot of diseases in Ghana, and I wanted to help the affected communities and children get vaccinations. Children used to get polio, but due to the vaccinations we are not seeing as much of it anymore."

Josie is determined to match the improvements in physical healthcare in Ghana with progress for those with mental health problems over the coming years.

 Learn more about Community Mental Health Officers