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As part of an effort to increase access to mental health services in Africa, McLean Hospital is partnering with the German-based non-governmental organization (NGO) On The Move e.V.
The groups are working together to increase awareness of brain health and to fight the stigma surrounding mental health in Ghana and Kenya. An expansion of McLean’s Deconstructing Stigma campaign, the collaboration focuses on volunteer programs, fundraising campaigns for medical facilities and schools, and education centered on brain education and mental health awareness.
By working with the NGO On The Move e.V., McLean is delivering on its mission to expand access to high-quality mental health services worldwide. The partnership helps to enhance overall knowledge of brain health and encourage compassion and understanding for individuals living with mental health conditions.
Specifically, the arrangement with On The Move e.V. enables McLean to bring its public outreach campaign, Deconstructing Stigma, to an even larger audience. By collecting stories from individuals in Ghana and Kenya living with mental health conditions, McLean and On The Move e.V. are bringing awareness and inspiration to those who are affected by mental health issues but may be reluctant to seek help. This work is particularly important in Africa, where individuals with mental health concerns face shame, even torture, and where mental health services are largely inadequate.
On The Move e.V. coordinates volunteer programs, fundraising campaigns for medical facilities and schools, and brain awareness activities in African countries, Germany, and the US. The organization’s co-founder Rick Wolthusen, MD, explains that the group was initially created “to facilitate a cultural exchange between medical professionals in Germany and Ghana.” Over time, On The Move e.V. expanded to “build mental health infrastructure, provide holistic mental health care, and work to decrease the stigma associated with psychiatric diseases.”
The NGO offers training in vocational and emotional skills to socially reintegrate mental health patients back into society. In addition, On The Move e.V. provides brain awareness education to increase the public’s understanding of brain function and mental illness, and to fight the stigma surrounding mental health.
“We take a neuroscience approach to how we talk about the brain,” Wolthusen said. “We discuss how to keep it healthy, be more productive, and how to deal with stress.” The group provides brain education in Ghana and Kenya to some 500 people each month. “Everyone wants to learn about the brain,” Wolthusen stated. “With our approach, people start to ask the right questions about the brain and mental illness, and it helps reduce stigma.”
In 2018, On The Move e.V. created a Center for Mental Health in Ghana called Home of Brains. The first institution of its kind in the country, the center offers mental illness prevention services, therapy, and education. All activities build on research. Home of Brains also collaborates with local hospitals on referrals and rehabilitation efforts. On The Move e.V. provides similar services in Kenya. The NGO collaborates with local partners from different sectors, including the newly founded mental health patient advisory board and religious leaders from different institutions, who act as gatekeepers for community mental health needs.
Now expanding its efforts in Africa, On The Move e.V. has started working with a mental health NGO in Rwanda and is reaching out, in collaboration with a partner NGO from Montréal, to organizations in Senegal, Cameroon, and other French-speaking countries in Africa to seek collaborative opportunities.
To increase his group’s education and anti-stigma efforts, Wolthusen reached out to McLean Hospital in 2017. “I got interested in McLean after seeing the Deconstructing Stigma display at Logan airport,” he said. Much like the Deconstructing Stigma campaign, On The Move e.V. has collected stories from mental health patients and created public displays and exhibitions in Africa and Germany.
McLean is working with Wolthusen, who is pursuing a master’s degree in public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School, on new anti-stigma outreach campaigns and they are planning a Deconstructing Stigma-style display for Harvard University later in 2019. On World Mental Health Day 2018, On the Move e.V. and McLean partnered for the premiere of the documentary “Obuongo Edhano – Embracing Mental Health in Western Kenya,” a film, which was produced by Millstone Media Production, showcasing the mental health work being done by the NGO in Kenya.