Mental Health is one of the important health concerns worldwide. People with mental challenges can post a danger to the society since most of them can harm other humans or contract communicable diseases from the dirty environment they are exposed to. Worldwide Mental health has received the needed attention by stakeholders of health but in Ghanaian communities, people with mental challenges or illnesses go through a lot of ordeals.
In Ghana, people with mental challenges go through a lot of challenges and neglect. Most people with those challenges are perceived to have committed crimes against fellow humans or offended the gods or God before contracting these conditions. In fact mentally challenged people are seen as demon possessed people who can only be normal when exorcised of the evil spirits by pastors or traditional priest.
In many of the communities in Ghana, people with mental challenges are not sent to health care centers or hospitals for treatment but are rather sent to prayer camps and shrines for treatment. In those places they are either chained to prevent causing harm or being kept in Unhygienic conditions that aggravate their conditions. Some prayer camps require those people to undergo dry fasting for days to weeks. When they stay there for long and there is no improvement of their conditions, they are taken home and left to roam on the streets without care from their families. In these conditions, they eat and drink whatever food and water they come across.
Some are also beating, mocked at and rebuked as if they are not human beings.
Recently, the writer witnessed a mentally challenged young man who was kept in a prayer camp along Bimbilla –Yendi Road, he escaped from the camp and when he was seen on the road his people had to subjects him to canning and beatings when trying to force him back to the prayer camp.
Also, in the early part of November this year, a man in his 50s suffered mental challenges and instead of the family taking the man to the health centre or hospital for treatment, he was rather accused of bewitching and killing his neighbors in spiritual realms, hence should not be treated. His condition became worse and he was sent to a prayer camp, after spending two weeks in the camp without the change in the condition, he had since been returned to the house in that conditions where he has been left to his fate.
Not only the above examples, but another man with mental challenges in Chamba, a town in Nanumba North is also always seen with cuffs in his hands and legs making it difficult to walk and to freely eat, the family only explained that when he is left he tries harming the community members.
Not only the mentally challenged people who roam about in town are seen as mentally challenged or disturbed but there are a lot of people with developing mild, severe, or recurring conditions that pose a lot of danger to their communities.
Barely eight years ago in Nanumba North District in the Northern Region, a married man who was suspected to be mentally challenged or unstable during the midnight slaughtered one of his wives with a cutlass while she was asleep killing her instantly and in the process of slaughtering the second one, he was overpowered. The man subsequently committed suicide by shooting himself dead.
When the author interviewed some of the families and the general public on why they don’t send mentally challenge people to the hospital, the majority held the notion that mental challenges or illnesses cannot be treated in the hospital unless, through spiritual means, some others too said the cost of treatment is too expensive since they have to travel far distances with the victims to access mental health care.
It is recommended that the government through Ghana Health Service, Mental Health Authority, religious institutions, and relevant Non-Governmental Organizations should embark on more public education on mental health education. There should be psychiatric or mental health units attached to every health care centre or hospital with well trained mental health workers to examine and provide mental health care at the doorstep of every Ghanaian.
The cost of treatment should also be absorbed under the National Health Insurance Scheme or subsidized to enable the poor access to mental health care.
Lastly, the Government should liaise with prayer camp and shrine leaders to refer those with mental challenges to health centers or to allow mental health workers to operate with them for the provision of a concurrent solution to mentally challenged persons in their facility.
Written by Naboare David.
Ghana National Association of Community Mental Health Officers.
Contact me on Tel: +233-0541098521/ +233-0206092748
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