Reverend Albright Asiwome Banibensu, a licensed Psychologist has advised the Ghana Police Service (GPS) to use psychosocial interventions as a crucial component to meet the overall health needs of personnel.
This, he said, would require that the GPS employed more mental health professionals such as Counselling Psychologists, Clinical Psychologists, Psychiatrists, among others to meet such needs.
Psychosocial interventions refer to any intervention that emphasises psychological, behavioural or social factors rather than biological factors, such as pharmacotherapy.
In an interview with the Ghana News Agency in Accra, Rev. Banibensu, who is the National Vice President, Ghana Psychological Association (GPA), said personnel of the security forces hid suicidal tendencies because they were perceived to be tough and must act as such.
Rev Banibensu said this made it “difficult for most personnel to admit it when their psychosocial world is breaking down and even when they reach their limit, they do still think they can hold on.”
As such, when they finally cross the limit, they may find it difficult to seek help since they might be perceived as not being tough enough.
“What we should know is that having psychosocial challenges doesn't mean that one isn't tough. It simply means we're all human. The good news is that one can be treated when one has psychosocial and emotional health challenges,” he added.
The Psychologist attributed another factor of suicides amongst security services to their view of mental health.
He said security personnel feared a situation known as “Medical Boarding”, should they be diagnosed with psychological distress.
Medical Boarding is the inability of an employee to work according to the requirements of his/her job as a result of ill-health or injury.
He said if someone was struggling with a mental health issue, he or she was likely to be medically boarded or declared unfit for duty.
This, he said, was likely to discourage anyone from reporting to a Psychologist or any other mental health professional early enough.
He said since mental health challenges were progressive (deteriorate when unattended to), one is likely to get worse to the point where they can feel completely hopeless.
Rev Banibensu said it was important for security services to acknowledge that, although the Service needed officers who were in their peak of health, yet just like getting a headache or malaria, so also one can get psychosocially and emotionally distressed.
“And just the way a personnel would go to the hospital for treatment for a physical ailment without, necessarily being medically boarded, so also is the case of issues that can push one to commit suicide. The easier it is made for security personnel to access help without medical boarding, the better it will be for their mental health.”
He advised the media to be circumspect in their reportage on suicide cases since a wrongful reportage on such a subject had the tendency to result in more attempted suicides—a condition known as “Werther effect.”
“No images of what is used or can be used in a suicide attempt should be reported. No specific mention should be made of the instruments used to carry out the deed. It is enough to state that a person has taken his own life without going into details about the process and what was used,” he said.
He said the recent suicide cases happening in the Ghana Police Service (GPS) had the tendency to dampen the general morale of the service.
Rev. Banibensu said the feeling of hopelessness in itself can demotivate a person from performing his or her duties optimally.
He said when an officer struggling with psychological issues was deployed, he or she might not carry out the duties as expected and it could render teamwork in the Police Service ineffective, hence, negatively impacting the combat of crime.
“Their work is an already very stressful service with many unmet needs. So, when people that others look up to and think they are doing well end up taking their own lives, it makes others wonder what they can do better.”