The Plight of Persons with Psychosocial Disability in the Ghanaian Communities

Mr David Naboare
Publication date: 
30 November 2017

Mental health is one of the important health concerns worldwide. People with mental disabilities are often exposed to abuse and other human rights violations and the unhygienic environment they live in put them at risk for contracting communicable diseases. Worldwide mental health has received the needed attention by stakeholders of health but in Ghanaian communities, people with psychosocial disability or mental illnesses go through a lot of turmoil.

In Ghana, people with psychosocial disability go through many challenges and experience neglect. Most people with psychosocial disability are perceived by communities to being criminals or offended the gods or God before contracting these conditions. In fact, persons with psychosocial disability are seen as demon possessed who can only be “normal” when the evil spirits are exorcised by pastors or traditional priest.

In many of the communities in Ghana, people with psychosocial disability 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 them for causing (perceived) harm or being kept in unhygienic conditions that aggravate their condition. 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 condition, they are taken home and left to roam on the streets without care or support from their families. In these conditions, they eat and drink whatever food and water they come across. Some are also beating, mocked and rebuked as if they are not human beings.

Recently, the writer witnessed a young man with a psychosocial disability 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 subjected him to physical abuse by beating him whilst forcing him back to the prayer camp.

Also, in early part of November this year, a man in his 50s presenting with symptoms of mental illness, the family did not take the man to the health centre or hospital for treatment, but exposed to accusations of being bewitched and for killing his neighbors in spiritual realms. His condition became worse and he was sent to a prayer camp, after spending two weeks in the camp without a change in his condition, he had been returned back home in that conditions where he has been left to his fate.

Apart from the above examples, another man with psychosocial disability in Chamba, a town in Nanumba North is always seen with cuffs on his hands and legs making it difficult to freely move, walk and eat. The family’s response if that they are trying to prevent him from harming the community members.

When the author interviewed some of the families and the general public on why they don’t send their relatives who present with mental health problem to hospital, the majority held the notion that persons with mental health problems or psychosocial disability cannot be treated in hospital unless going through spiritual means, others responded that the cost of treatment is too expensive since they have to travel far distances with their relative to access mental health care.

It is recommended that 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 door step of every Ghanaian.

The cost of treatment should also be absorbed under National Health Insurance Scheme or subsidized to enable the poor access mental health care.

Lastly, Government should liaise with prayer camp and shrine leaders to refer those with mental health problems to health centers or to allow mental health workers to partner with the prayer camp and shrine leaders develop a strategy to ensure that persons presenting with mental health problems access mental health services.

Mr David Naboare

National President: Ghana National Association of Community Mental Health Officers

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