Ghana’s Mental Health Care Raises Concern
Medi Ssengooba visited Ghana recently, hoping that the country with one of the fastest growing disability rights movements in Africa would be laying the structure for a modern and dignified system for treating those with mental disabilities. Instead, she shares horrific stories from one of the quickest growing democracies in Africa.
Ssengooba visited three of Ghana’s public psychiatric hospitals, eight prayer camps and communities across the country while researching how Ghana treats the 2.8 million residents living with mental disabilities or mental health problems.
Sadly, she reports to CNN that those with mental disabilities are being treated as less than normal citizens. They are being forcibly admitted to overcrowded and unsanitary psychiatric hospitals and prayer camps.
In one of these “prayer camps,” Ssengooba met Elijah, who was chained to a tree. He has been chained to the tree for five months, as the camp’s spiritual leaders have “prescribed” to “treat” restlessness and insomnia, which they deemed a mental illness. He sleeps, bathes, and defecates in an open compound, and will remain there until the spiritual healers have decided he is cured.
These camps are privately owned by religious operations affiliating with Christianity, though their actions would make most question the religious ideas of these camps. Elijah is not the only person chained to a tree. All 20 people with mental disabilities in the camp are chained to trees. They all complain of hunger and they have no shelter.
Often, the camps that do offer an indoor facility lock their doors at midday, leaving the people inside trapped. Not that they would leave. The majority of the country shuns them, and their families are usually the people who brought them to the camp.
There is no government oversight for these camps, and there is no other way to describe what is happening than to say they are gross offences to human rights. Much of the “treatment” would be categorized as illegal in Ghana, but no one enforces these laws here.
Ghana recieves millions of dollars from international donors for development aid, but they budget less than 6 percent of the national budget on mental health care. For Ghana to continue to symbolize stability and peace in Africa, it needs to radically rethink its treatment of those with mental disabilities or mental health problems. All people deserve to be treated as equal human beings, with care and compassion, especially those with mental health issues.