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The Mental Health Crisis in Ghana and How You Can Help

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Of the 26 million people living in Ghana, it is estimated that 650,000 suffer from a severe mental disorder and over 2 million more are suffering from moderate to mild mental disorders. Unfortunately, in 2014, a Human Rights Watch Investigation found that Ghanaians who suffer from mental health are frequently detained against their will in inhumane conditions in psychiatric hospitals or spiritual healing centres known as “prayer camps”. People with mental disabilities such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are often shackled for prolonged periods of time by the ankle to a concrete block or tree where they are forced to sleep, urinate, defecate and bathe in the same small area. It's also been reported that they are often denied food, water and access to basic healthcare. 

This cruelty is often the result of a lack of awareness about mental health and the lack of mental health medical professionals in Ghana. As of 2015, there were only 12 trained psychiatrists, approximately 500 mental health nurses, only 3 public psychiatric hospitals and a handful of allied health professionals providing mental health services to a population of 26 million. Religious feeling is also strong in this part of the world, and the pastors who run the prayer camps preach that, through them, God can heal almost any ailment; and mental health ailments, like psychosis, are often viewed as demonic or as being possessed by an evil spirit. 

In recent years, there has been momentum in Ghana. In 2012, the Mental Health Act was passed which laid out a clear procedure for persons with mental disabilities to challenge continued detention. But unfortuantely, there is currently no procedure in place to monitor the prayer camps and there are several reports that abuse is still happening. There is a lot more work to be done. 

UON Associate Professor Chris Kewley has become very involved with the Mental Health Foundation of Ghana where he currently serves on the Board of Directors. In recognition of his work, Chris recently received the inaugural International Dr Crosby Mochia Award for Humanitarian Support to the Reforming Mental Health System in Ghana. He has been focusing on working with the Ghanaian government, spiritual leaders and “Nanas” (traditional tribal Kings and Queen Mothers) to help end the human rights abuse against the mentally disabled.

Image above: Associate Professor Chris Kewley with traditional leaders of Ghana’s Cape Coast including Nana Queen Mother Abena Gyamfua II.
 

The University of Newcastle is also getting very involved. At the MHFG’s second annual conference, UON announced two PhD scholarships that represent an investment of more than $230,000 to combat serious abuse of individuals with mental illness in Ghana. Additionally, GradSchool has been able to donate $4,000 and several textbooks to help support the teaching and learning of Mental Health and Health Leadership to current and aspiring medical practitioners in Ghana.

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If you have more questions or are interested in affecting positive change in Ghana can contact Associate Professor Chris Kewley on (02) 4921 5751 or chris.kewley@newcastle.edu.au.

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