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Posted on Dec 14 2022 by Fiona Bailey

A recent trip to Ghana to promote mental and physical wellbeing, prompted a “kaleidoscope of emotions” for a father-of-two who went out to complete charity work.

Martin O’Dowd, Head of Physical Healthcare at St Andrew’s Healthcare, flew out to the African country in October to help increase awareness about the link between physical and mental healthcare.

His visit was in partnership with the Besstel Foundation, an organisation that aims to enhance awareness of mental health in Ghana and other parts of Africa.

Martin said: “There is clearly a significant mental health issue in Ghana. The World Health Organization says there are about 650,000 people there who are suffering from a severe mental disorder, and a further 2.1m who may have a moderate to mild mental disorder. I saw it with my own eyes.  

“While I was there I did a lot of work on debunking some myths that surround mental illness, as in some regions there are cultural beliefs that mean what we understand as mental illness is instead linked to curses or witchcraft. Those who may be experiencing some form of psychosis can be shunned by their local communities as people believe they are cursed and therefore those who are in dire need of support are ignored and cast aside.”

During his trip, Martin spent a lot of time visiting schools and hospitals, delivering training and education sessions so help increase awareness of mental health issues.

He also led a national programme of education which will now be rolled out across prisons.

St Andrew’s Healthcare donated clinical equipment, such as clinical couches, thermometers, blood pressure cuffs, ECG machines and clinical consumables to hospitals which Martin oversaw being distributed.

Reflecting on his time there, Martin said: “Although there is a lot of work to be done on our mental health services in the UK, when compared with what is on offer in Ghana we certainly have access to a lot more support.

“Being in Ghana and seeing many people struggle so desperately was a real eye opener. However, the people of Ghana were friendly, kind and happy. Despite, in materialistic terms perhaps not having much, the sense of family, faith and community was strong. The people I met seemed to be very content with their lives.

“My trip stirred up a kaleidoscope of emotions; spending time with young children who were living in impoverished conditions was upsetting and made me miss my family dreadfully but meeting people who made the most