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Yvonne Ka-Chungu

Community Mental Health Officer

 

‘When I am able to help people, I feel satisfied about this, as I feel that my efforts have not been in vain.’

Most mental health professionals would be concerned if their psychotic patients turned up on their own doorstep – but for Yvonne Ka-Chungu, it is just part of the job.

The conscientious mother-of-one will even on occasion buy expensive anti-psychotic medication for her desperate patients.

Despite not even having her own office, she is fast becoming an invaluable presence for fellow health professionals encountering a whole range of mental health problems in Tamale, northern Ghana.

Yvonne, 41, said: ‘Sometimes the drugs are too expensive for some patients, but they are still needed, so I try and get them some medication.

‘I have one psychotic patient who can become aggressive, and he needs to be calm, but it is difficult for his family to get the medication. Sometimes I have to use my money to try and get the tablets. It is not my duty, but sometimes I help.

‘Some patients that live closer to my house will see me at home. One patient always comes to my house, but I don’t get fed up with it.’

Yvonne, who graduated just over a year ago from the Kintampo Project’s pioneering mental health training project, started at Tamale West Hospital in October.

The hospital is a poly-clinic with 70 inpatient beds, including maternity, paediatric, surgical and medical wards – and for the first time, thanks to Yvonne, has a mental health presence.

Yvonne, who is divorced and lives with her sister and seven-year-old child, previously worked as a community health nurse for seven years. Before that she worked in a pharmacy, an experience that has proved invaluable in securing much-needed medication for patients.

Before moving to Tamale, Yvonne gained mental health experience through her one-year Kintampo placement at Tii Sampa, running a clinic from Monday to Friday, whilst also seeing patients in the community.

Newly established in Tamale, a regional capital with a population of about 500,000, Yvonne is starting to become an important resource for fellow professionals, including her brother, who works at the teaching hospital in Kumasi.

However, she still does not fully feel recognised as an equal, perhaps reflecting mental health’s still lowly status in Ghana.

She said: ‘I go to the other wards to see if there are patients with mental health problems or epilepsy, but often there is no privacy to interview them, which can be difficult.

‘I have to use other people’s rooms and do the best I can. The other professionals are happy I am there because before they did not know what to do with people with mental health problems, and now they feel the burden on them will be relieved.’

She added: ‘They are starting to think more about mental health problems, but there are a lot of consulting rooms not occupied, and they won’t give me my own office.

‘That tells me that they don’t see that mental health problems are important.

‘If I had my own office I would be able to do more, including educational work. Now I am constrained, I can’t do too much of that.’

Apart from seeing patients at the hospital, Yvonne also sees a number of patients in the community, often having to pay for a taxi to reach them.

But ever-enthusiastic, Yvonne is just happy to be doing a job she loves, knowing she is a pioneering presence in a drastically under-resourced area.

She added: ‘I am so fortunate to have my brother working in the same hospital, and he is happy for me. So is the rest of the family.

‘I don’t mind the problems as I know these patients need help. I am so happy doing this job as there are people out there who need help, and I am able to offer help.

‘When I am able to help people, I feel satisfied about this, as I feel that my efforts have not been in vain.’

 Learn more about Community Mental Health Officers