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14.01.2010 Health

People with mental illness still await better treatment

By Helena Selby - Ghanaian Chronicle
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Mental disability in an individual is an indirect loss of his or her existence in this world, as one becomes naïve about his actions and activities concerning his life and the world. Mental illness, according to estimates, accounts for about 14% of global diseases, and in Ghana, the World Health Organisation's (WHO) official figures indicate that about 10% of Ghanaians suffer from mental disorder. The rate of attack rules out the issue of race, culture and religion - that is it affects every individual and is inconsiderable of one's roots. The rich and poor are not left out, however, poor people with mental illness in the developing countries have a higher risk of being deprived of life chances. Victims of such a disease in Ghana cannot be left out, considering the country being a developing country, the limited number of psychiatric hospitals, and the rate of stigmatisation surrounding the disease, people with mental illness are indirectly deprived of every basic right in society.

Mentally disordered
In Ghana, and in many parts of the world, people with mental illness are left alone on the streets, with relatives not knowing their whereabouts. As if that is not enough, people abuse them by throwing stones and other objects at them, just to keep them away or make fun of them. In the case of some mentally ill women, some men take advantage by sexually abusing them, and even though these mentally disordered people have sex among themselves, it is sad to note that some sane people of the society unduly take advantage of them, for reasons only known to them.

The ideology surrounding mental illness in Ghana makes it difficult for people in such situations to find help, either from family members, or society. The family of a mentally disordered person has the tendency of losing any form of favour from society, as they would be considered bad luck and coming from a cursed family.

Young men and women, who have reached their prime to get married, tend to lose suitors who seek their hands in marriage or accept marriage proposals from such a family. According to many existing traditions in Ghana, and across Africa, to marry from a family with a trace of mental illness, indicates bad luck in one's marital home, or sometimes as it is considered hereditary, the possibility of a child inheriting it is there.

In view of this, many families, in order not to lose respect or be ridiculed, tend to hide the mentally ill person far away from the family, and from society. Many of these mentally ill people live the rest of their lives on the streets, with no one knowing where they really come from.

Mentally ill and prayer camps
In most cases the mentally disordered individual loses every economic livelihood due to existing conditions, and as a result, family members have to take up the responsibility of taking care of every expense of the individual. As it is expensive to take care of the individual, medical bills, coupled with feeding the family member, in most cases, some families prefer to keep the individual in a prayer camp, where there will be no charges whatsoever.

Moreover, with all the existing psychiatric hospitals located in the southern part of the country, family members have to transport the individual from the northern parts of the country to the south by road, which takes about 12 hours. Some family members, who will not want to waste money, time and energy, would prefer to leave the individual in a prayer camp in the northern part of the country, where they reside.

Mentally disordered people are victims of all kinds of abuses, even in prayer camps, where it is assumed that one can find refuge. Many families, in order to get rid of the shame and a find a way of being helped, prefer to leave the mentally ill relative in a prayer camp, since the illness is considered a spiritual attack, where no medical attention can help, but only God and prayers.

Treatment at prayer camps
In search of refuge for these almost devastated individuals, family members tend to leave them in a den of abuses. According to a research by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), prayer camps have become a place where the mentally disordered are abused without their knowledge. The research brought to the fore that most of these mentally disordered individuals are considered aggressive, and are chained in rooms for weeks, and denied the right of visitation by any family member. It is believed that allowing anybody visitation rights, makes the inmates vulnerable to further evil spirit attacks. According to them, all these practices contribute to the expelling of the evil spell cast on them.

Apart from being denied food for weeks as a form of fasting, which later on results in stomach ulcer, some inmates are sometimes striped naked, irrespective of the gender, or age, to take a “sand bath,” all in the name of casting out evil spirits. According to camp operators, a sand bath helps drive the possessive evil spirit away, and is important in freeing inmates from mental sickness.

What is expected of government and society?
In Ghana, irrelevant of how mental illness has taken over about 10% of the population, the government still does not give much attention to improving the situation of these people, forgetting that they can be useful to the labour force. Yet the government still refuses to put its intentions toward these people into reality, and is always leaving it on paper. The long existence of the number of psychiatric hospitals has not been increased till date, making medical attention for people with mental illness extremely limited.

The limited hospitals, coupled with bad conditions and no laws to protect them, make them liable to all kinds of abuse. The government is expected that as plans and laws are made to protect some sections of the population, for instance the enactment of the domestic law and disability law, it as well has to make it an objective to make the mental health bill into a law, which will protect people with mental illness. It will be a good thing if the government does not only enact this law, but as well put it into implementation, to prevent it from being dormant like the disability law.

It is about time society makes way for education to rule their thoughts and get rid of beliefs that hinder the basic rights of people. Families of the mentally ill people should discard the notion that mental illness can only be cured in prayer camps, so as to prevent victims of such diseases from undergoing abuse, tied with the trauma they are already into.

The mental health bill
All that these people need is the enactment of the mental health bill into a law. The mental bill is aimed at protecting the rights of the mentality ill person. According to a memorandum on the mental health bill, the bill has become necessary, because the 1972 legislation is out of date, and does not accord with best practice standards for mental health legislation, which is aimed to protect, promote and improve the lives and well-being of citizens with mental problems.

According to the bill, a person with mental disorder is entitled to the fundamental human rights and freedoms as enshrined in the constitution. A person with mental disorder is entitled to human and dignified treatment at any time, with respect to personal dignity and privacy.

Moreover, a person with mental disorder has the right to wear personal clothes while in a treatment facility, and maintain personal belongings, subject to space limitations. A person with mental disorder has the right to newspaper information and other media. As the bill has indicated, people with mental illness will have the chance to enjoy these rights, if the mental health bill is enacted into law.

Conclusion Even though the bill has not yet been passed by Parliament to make it a law, society can be of help by giving people with mental illness a chance to enjoy every basic right, as apportioned to every Ghanaian. The government must quit wasting the time in making the dream of these mentally ill people a reality, their situation should not deprive them of any national cake, as they are also citizens. Who knows, mental illness has no kind of boundary or prevention, everyone is at risk.

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