Poor countries are developing a new paradigm of mental health care. America is taking note.
When you look at the numbers, it’s easy to gape in horror.
In Ghana, a nation of 32 million people, there are only 62 psychiatrists.
Zimbabwe, with a population of 15 million, has only 19 psychiatrists.
And in Uganda, there are 47 psychiatrists serving a country of 48 million — less than one single psychiatrist for every million people.
These are staggering ratios. To get your head around them, take the US as a comparison. There are around 45,000 psychiatrists for all 333 million Americans, which translates to about 135 psychiatrists for every million people. That’s still not enough — experts are actually warning of an escalating shortage — and yet it’s a whopping 135 times more coverage than exists in Uganda.
These numbers have very real, and sometimes very brutal, implications for people’s lives. When psychiatry and other forms of professional mental health care are not accessible, people suffer in silence or turn to whatever options they can find. In Ghana, for instance, thousands of desperate families bring their ailing loved ones to “prayer camps” in hopes of healing, only to find that the self-styled prophets there chain their loved ones to trees. Instead of receiving medical treatment for, say, schizophrenia, the patients receive prayers.