The COVID-19 Pandemic introduced to Ghana serious conversations about stigmatization.
Suddenly, people who had contracted the virus or even come in contact with someone whose family member or friend had the virus are talking about stigmatization and there have been attempts since then to help end stigmatization of persons who have been infected with COVID-19.
I tried to look at the roots of stigmatization within our country and I realized that it is not only persons affected by COVID- 19 who get stigmatized. Stigmatization has been with us for God knows, how long and COVID-19 helped in exposing the situation.
One way or the other, a lot of people in Ghana get stigmatized, and for no reason, sometimes, people are easily tagged as something they are not because they find themselves in a particular situation.
For example, a woman gets married, and on the day of the wedding she has already been told that a year from her wedding day, people should be gathered to celebrate her child naming ceremony. If after one year that does not happen, she is stigmatized.
People begin to ask her all sorts of questions. Questions like, when are we seeing the children? What are you waiting for? How are my grandchildren? And so on. When they clearly know that it is not within the persons power to decide when to give birth.
Someone decides to become a worshipper of our Ghanaian Traditional gods and suddenly, he or she is seen as evil, she is stigmatized, called names and people may even want to harm another person for not sharing in their beliefs or ideals.
A friend once told me that as a people, we stigmatize what we do not understand and we stigmatize what we fear.
Because of stigmatization, people are unable to come out of their shells to blossom and grow. Once what a person does, does not sync with ours, we have the tendency to stigmatize.
One of the people that gets stigmatized in our society is persons with mental illness. Right from the word go, majority believe that they have been cursed. We use terms like “it is not normal” and under the guise of abnormality, treat persons with mental illness bad.
Stigmatization is the action of describing or regarding someone or something as worthy of disgrace or great disapproval, so a woman through no fault of hers gives birth to a child with challenges, suddenly, both the woman and the child are referred to as cursed with all the attendant negative talks.
In a country, where we are overly religious, with the majority of the population being either Christians, Muslims or Traditional gods worshippers, I sometimes get confused that when someone becomes “rich or wealthy” the only thing we attribute it to is “Money rituals” known in local parlance as Sikaduro.
And should anything someone considers as misfortune happen to a person, the only attribute is that, one is cursed or bewitched.
So, I was having a conversation with someone the other time about a woman who had a child with a disability, according to her, the woman is so worried and they are all thinking that perhaps someone did something to the woman when she was pregnant or to the child when she was born.
I told her that such thinking only gave power to the devil and asked her that so where was God in all of that and does she not think that God can also cause that to glorify himself and teach mankind diversity and tolerance?
Stigmatization is what makes us not to think deeply about happenings, but to quickly discard or see it as wrong because we do not understand it or we fear.
World Mental Health Day is celebrated on the 10th of October each year. This year, the celebration comes at a time when the World Health Organization is calling on international funders to do more, since mental health receives less than one per cent of international aid.
This year’s World Mental Health Day celebration is on the theme: Greater Investment – Greater Access
The World Health Organization says that pre-COVID-19 estimates reveal that nearly 1 trillion US Dollars in economic productivity is lost annually from depression and anxiety alone, however, studies show that every One US Dollar spent on evidence based care for depression and anxiety returns Five US dollars.
Stigmatization leads to a lot of mental health issues, depression, anxiety, among others.
I believe it is, therefore, time for countries to pay more attention to mental health issues because Mental Health Problems know no boundaries, nor does discrimination. They affect people of all ages, all income groups and all cultures.
We need to teach at a young age the need to tolerate differences and appreciate diversity, we need not be the same to be okay or well.
When it comes to tackling stigma and discrimination, words are powerful. Language can exclude people with certain conditions, words can add to or reinforce stigmatizing attitudes, stereotypes and harmful social norms
Many people, not just COVID-19 patients and their families face stigmatization in various forms and it is about time we enhanced the conversations on stigmatization to include; all persons who are likely to be stigmatized because of a condition.
And do not be the one to stigmatize another, before you say something about someone’s condition, do remember to empathize first.
The Writer is also a Registered Psychologist Assistant with the Ghana Psychological Council.