Most Persons with mental illness are not mad, but need help

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mental health problems
mental health

Mr Adam Mahama, not his real name, is in his mid 50s, and lives in the Gushegu Municipality of the Northern Region.

Background

He suffered a severe bipolar disorder, a mental illness characterised by an increased talkativeness, racing thoughts, increased self-esteem, decreased need for sleep and impulsive reckless behaviour.

Although his condition is stabilised, and he is functional, he told the Ghana News Agency (GNA) in Tamale that the stigma and discrimination associated with the illness in his neighbourhood are unbearable, especially when he is still tagged a “mad man” and a “lunatic.”.

The insensitive descriptions of persons with mental illness are not only abusive and offensive, but also breach the fundamental rights of victims. As result of the negative tags, most people prefer shielding their mental health status for fear of victimisation until their illness becomes severe with damning consequences.

To make things worse, some parents of children with mental health conditions are not spared as some members of society see them as shared partners in their children’s illness.

Madam Ezekiel Memunatu is a mother of a six-year-old mentally ill child in the Yendi Municipality of the Northern Region.

She said her daughter’s condition has made her a subject of discussion in most social gatherings, while others continue to abuse and ridicule her for the obvious reason of being a shared partner in her daughter’s condition.

She said: “I prefer leaving her with the grandmother whenever I’m going to social gatherings to avoid being ridiculed.”

The 2012 Mental Health Act (Act 846) says a person with mental disorder is entitled to humane and dignified treatment, and shall not be subjected to torture, cruelty, forced labour, or any other inhumane treatment.

However, persons with mental illness, especially in some rural areas are continuously being abused, stigmatised, and discriminated against for suffering from a medical condition.

Stigma and discrimination

These descriptions, which are not supported by scientific facts, are adversely contributing to the incidence of stigma and discrimination, which can increase suicide cases among victims.
Interestingly, experts say there is no immunity to mental illness. Not everyone develops it, but anyone could develop a mental illness during their lifetime.

Dr William Frank Hill Koomson, Head of Psychiatry Unit of the Tamale Teaching Hospital speaking to the GNA, said persons with mental illness were not ‘mad’ but suffering from a medical condition, which was treatable and manageable like any other sickness.

He said mental health issues were often aggravated by societal misconceptions, which they often attributed to spiritual forces and curses. #

He said: “Some of the cases we receive in our facilities are often after failed attempts at the various religious and faith-based organisations, where victims have undergone various degrees of molestations, because mostly people associate mental illness to spiritual forces.”

The United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF), 2021 report, shows that suicide was the fourth leading cause of death among young people, aged 15 – 19 years old, whilst same report says every year, almost 46,000 children from the ages of 10-19, ended their own lives.

Meanwhile, 2019-2030 Mental Health Policy in Ghana estimates that over 90 per cent of attempted or completed suicides had mental health conditions, mostly depression.

Statistics of Mental Illness

Mental illness comprises a wide range of mental health conditions that affect one’s mood, way of thinking and behaviour.

This may include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviours. World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that in 2019, one in every eight people or 970 million people around the world lived with a mental disorder with anxiety and depressive disorders being the most common.

Mr Peter Amadu Mintir, Clinical Health Psychologist with the University for Development Studies, and Founder and Executive Director of Total Life Enhancement Centre (TOLEC-GH), a psychology focused organisation advocating mental health and supplying psychological services in the Northern Region, said there was urgent need to intensify advocacy and awareness creation on mental illness, especially in rural communities, where the illness was considered a curse from spirits or gods.

He said: “The perception that persons with mental disorders are ‘mad’ and cursed coupled with stakeholders’ unpreparedness to implement policies and programmes on mental health, further worsens their plight.”

He expressed need for collective efforts towards enhancing sensitisation and advocacy campaigns to minimise incidences of abuse, neglect, stigmatisation and discrimination against people with mental illness.

Mr Mintir underscored the need to eschew some traditional and religious beliefs that did not promote mental health services in the country.
Way Forward

Even though WHO has provided a comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan between 2013- 2030, it is equally important that government and other stakeholders launch an aggressive campaign on mental health education, stigma, discrimination, and abuse.

Government must also ensure that section 57 (2) of the Criminal Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29) is amended to decriminalise suicidal behaviours.

Mental health services must be included at all sectors of the educational curricular and be made user-friendly for all students.

Mental illness must be prioritised with adequate facilities and professionals at all health facilities just like any other physical illnesses are promoted and supported.

It is important that Government ensures all public and private institutions have mental health units that will help address mental health needs of employees to enhance productivity.

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