Life is more meaningful when great men impact society positively with their skill and compassion, the reason we celebrate a renowned Psychiatrist, Writer, Motivator and Administrator.
Dr. Akwasi Osei, the Chief Executive Officer of Mental Health Authority, Ghana, comes from Ejisu-Onwe in the Ashanti Region. He started his basic education at Abonsuaso, a community near Tepa and continued at Ejisu-Onwe, his home town. He did a bit of his secondary education in Onwe Secondary School, a community day school, then continued at Dwamena Akenten Secondary School at Offinso for his O-levels and finished at St. John’s School at Sekondi for his A-levels. He was admitted into the medical school at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) School of Medical Sciences from where he qualified as a medical doctor.
After working at various hospitals in Ghana he enrolled in the West African College of Physicians and qualified as a Psychiatrist. While in training for the Fellowship he went to Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland in the United States of America for Hubert Humphrey Fellowship program. He also studied Mental Health Legislation and Human Rights at the India Law Society Law School at Pune, India and an LLB at Mountcrest University College, Kanda, Accra. He is also a Fellow of the Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Growing up in a polygamous home in Onwe, a small community with lots of neighborly love was full of fun regardless of the challenges to rural settlement. Though they were not connected to the national grid, the community leaders in the 1960’s were progressive and purchased a plant which supplied them electricity from 6 to 9pm. A move, though progressive, did little to help in academic work as they had to resort to candles and lanterns for late night studies and he recalls he was once nearly consumed in fire outbreak from the candle light.
He was well taken care of by his father, a commercial farmer with six wives and many children, whose foremost desire was to see all his children attain success. “We were all one growing up, there was no segregation amongst the children despite our having different mothers, my father made sure there was love and unity amongst us” he said. His father farmed in cocoa at various places in the Brong-Ahafo, Western and Ashanti Regions and supporting him on the farms during holidays came with a lot of excitement.
His parents settled in Kumasi when he entered secondary school and this gave him a good opportunity to experience and enjoy city life once he was on holidays. Akwasi lived a calm and quiet life in school, a life that suited his reading habit. His love for books made the school’s library his best place of abode and eventually this earned him the library prefect which meant an opportunity for all night access to the library. He spent sleepless nights and read all kinds of books, spanning story books, philosophy, psychology and the African Writers series. This made him very knowledgeable in almost every subject area. “I grew so broad minded, curious and knowledgeable that teachers, friends and family felt I would be a fine lawyer” he said.
But his curiosity grew so much that he became fond of research and sought to understand existential issues of life including understanding human behavior. ”This led me to drink a glass of alcohol in my elder brother’s bar just to find out what it contained that got people excited when they were intoxicated. The effect was that I collapsed, nearly died and regained consciousness the following day. That experience made me an instant teetotaler to date.” he recollected.
With curiosity and love for the sciences coupled with an admiration for his physics teacher, at a point he wanted to study pure physics after physics greats like Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton but upon advice and encouragement from the physics teacher he opted for medicine. “As early as the second year in the medical school I knew Psychiatry was my specialty for it answered my long-held questions on human behavior and all my professors and student colleagues were clear that I was cut for it” he said.
For over thirty years, he has stood by his desire to understand and mend muddled minds and human behavior through dedication and compassion as a Psychiatrist. He has brought joy to many through the healing of people who would have been roaming the streets of society abandoned and dejected. He has brought the unspoken subject of mental health to the door steps of the ordinary Ghanaian and to the corridors of power through which some good amount of progress have been achieved.
He has been persistent with his determination to see an effective mental healthcare, but it has not come without some challenges. He mentions the lack of prioritization of mental healthcare as a major set back to effective mental health delivery. “Policy makers do not prioritize mental health care because mental illness, unlike malaria and the general health conditions, does not kill. But it does cause a lot of disability which is computed as loss of Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALY) depicting the contribution of the burden of disease,” he said.
Dr. Osei referenced a research by Yale University and University of Ghana on mental health and its effect on productivity. With a sample size of 19,000 households and 10,000 respondents, the researches found over 41% of Ghanaians had one form of mental disorder and this accounted for 7% loss to GDP yearly. In his opinion, this should prompt government to pay serious attention to mental health delivery in the country. He also considered our superstitious nature and over reliance on religion as a huge challenge, in that, people regard mental illness as spiritual affliction and subject victims to stigma and discrimination.
Regardless of these challenges, he has a conviction that with the help of civil society activists and the media, society will come to appreciate mental healthcare and the need to support its effective delivery.
Dr. Akwasi Osei believes life in itself was given to man to advance the course of civilization, the reason we ought to make an impact to transform society and transform ourselves. “Life is about higher moral values, we should transform ourselves, live for one another not ourselves and thereby transform this world, to leave it better than we met it” he said calmly.
“Young people should not rush through life, they should delay self gratification, work hard with the hope of enjoying tomorrow not today and think of contributing meaningfully to society” he advised. He plans to share his professional and private experience with society through teaching and publications to educate and throw more light on mental health even on his retirement.
Dr. Akwasi Osei is married to Mrs. Joyce Osei and they have two lovely daughters. He loves reading, writing and listening to burger highlife music.
Written by; Kwakubeng
As told by; Dr. Akwasi Osei