Ghana urged to abolish shackling of mental health patients
Ghanaian officials have been urged to ensure adequate funding for mental health services as a crucial step to eliminate the widespread practice of shackling and other abuses against people with psychosocial disabilities.
On the eve of world mental health day, October 10, 2017, a coalition of non-governmental organisations called on the Finance Minister, Mr Ken Ofori-Atta, to set up a levy to support Ghana’s mental health services as required by the country’s mental health Act 2012.
The coalition included; BasicNeeds Ghana, MindFreedom Ghana, Mental Health Society of Ghana, Law and Development Associates, Human Rights Advocacy Centre, Christian Health Association of Ghana, Human Rights Watch, CBM, Disability Rights Advocacy Fund, Anti-torture Initiative and Former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez.
Peter Yaro, Executive Director of BasicNeeds was quoted in a statement issued after a press briefing on Monday that “People in Ghana resort to shackling people with psychosocial disabilities because they see no alternatives,”
“It’s now been five years since the passage of the mental health act and it is high time for the government to invest in community based mental health services, so people with psychosocial disabilities can get the support they want, instead of ending up in shackles,” Yaro said.
The Mental Health Act of 2012 lays out the legislative framework for a levy, and says the Finance Minister should set up the resource to fund mental health services through parliament.
The levy has yet to be established.
Ghana has made progress in safeguarding the rights of people with disabilities, following reports by Human Rights Watch, local non-governmental organisations like BasicNeeds Ghana among other several others and the former United Nations special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez.
In July, the Mental Health Authority oversaw the release of more than a dozen people with disabilities who were chained in Nyakumasi Prayer Camp in the Central Region.
With pressure from local and international groups, the Mental Health Authority, has taken steps to enforce a ban on shackling, but disability rights campaigners say much more needs to be done.
“The government of Ghana has a real opportunity to lead by example, sending a message to other countries in the region and globally that it will not tolerate the inhumane treatment of people with psychosocial disabilities,” Julian Eaton, senior mental health advisor at CBM was also quoted in the statement.
“They represent some of the most marginalised and invisible in society and deserve the same dignity and respect as anyone else.”
The coalition demanded that people with mental health conditions in Ghana should no longer be subjected to inhumane treatment.
Instead, they suggested to government to ensure that people with psycho-social disabilities are treated with dignity and can live full and independent lives.
It called on government to allocate adequate funds to develop voluntary mental health services, support for housing and independent living, as well as offer job training.
They called for more programmes to combat the stigma associated with mental health, especially at workplaces, the central theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day, Dr Kwesi Ose, Chief Executive Officer of Ghana mental health authority told journalists at the press briefing.
In Ghana and many other countries, people with real or perceived psycho-social disabilities – that is, mental health conditions – are sometimes seen as being possessed by evil spirits or demons.
Due to these beliefs and the lack of local mental health services, some families and communities resort to chaining the person during a mental health crisis, either in their homes or in spiritual health centres, known as prayer camps.
In some prayer camps, according to Human Rights Watch, people are chained to trees, frequently in the blazing sun, where they would bathe, defecate, urinate, eat, and sleep, some for years.
On Monday, the coalition launched a social media campaign, #BreakTheChains, to combat the stigma associated with mental health, and pushed for the government to fulfil its commitments under the Mental Health Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.