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    Ghana: Invest More in Mental Health Services


    Read a text description of this video

    SOUNDBITE: Abena

    Freedom means waking up to do what I love without any restrictions, getting the necessary support, and also just feeling very liberated.

    VO:

    Human Rights Watch has been speaking with people who are locked up simply because they have a mental health condition, to see how their lives have changed since returning home to their communities.

    SOUNDBITE: Abena 

    I love art, I love yoga, I love hiking. You know, I love Africa.

    SOUNDBITE: Marian

    It is good to be, to be back to the community. My family has been very supportive. Their support is very important, like if you get a supportive family and a supportive community where people don’t stigmatize you or people don’t criticize you.

    VO:

    In Ghana, like in many countries, people with psychosocial disabilities or mental health conditions face stigma on a daily basis. This stigma means people with psychosocial disabilities, are often locked away in “prayer camps” and traditional healing centers where they maybe subjected to shackling and other human rights abuses.

    SOUNDBITE: Marian

    From what I remember, I was not happy to be there. Being locked up in your room. I don’t remember being shackled but I said I remember when they were taking it [the shackles] off. When they took it off, I would go back into the room and they would lock the door. I would be there in the room alone during the night. I really didn’t like that experience, being alone locked up.

    VO:

    People with psychosocial disabilities should not be locked up or shackled. Instead, the government should support them to live in the community. Since 2011, Human Rights Watch has been documenting what life is like for people with psychosocial disabilities when locked away, often in chains.

    SOUNDBITE: Bernard

    I was there for two years [prayer camp.] And during those times to my children were not old at all. So I think of them a lot. So I sometimes cry, bitterly with loud voice, calling them, but this was my situation.

    SOUNDBITE: Abena

    I have not been shackled, but I’ve been physically restrained. You know, about four, five strong men holding me down, for me to receive injections that were not necessary.

    VO:

    Human Rights Watch found that families often take people with real or perceived psychosocial disabilities to faith-based or traditional healers because of the widely held beliefs that such disabilities are caused by curses or evil spirits, and because their communities have limited, if any, mental health services.

    SOUNDBITE: Abena 

    The quality of care has to be improved.

    SOUNDBITE: Marian

    In our country there’s so many misconceptions about mental health.

    SOUNDBITE: Marian

    I think education is very important.

    SOUNDBITE: Abena

    Yeah, I have been ostracized a lot. You know, there were times where I lost employment opportunities. And it affected, like, almost all aspects of my life.

    VO:

    The Ghanaian government should provide rights-respecting mental health services at the community level and ensure that people with psychosocial disabilities get adequate support  for housing, independent living, and job training.

    SOUNDBITE: Bernard

    Good community means community which is decent. You do things on your own. You can socialize at any place that you want to. And you can attend church. That’s what I know is a good community. You have your freedom, you have your peace, you can move about freely.

    SOUNDBITE: Marian

    I am really happy when I am able to achieve something and I get good results from it. Something I enjoy doing like maybe swimming or cooking something that releases stress or helps me to relax. I also love to see family and friends too, they make me happy.

    SOUNDBITE: Marian

    In the future I am hoping that the awareness will be created and the stigma will be reduced and people will be much more enlightened about mental health issues and how to offer support especially when the person is going through a crisis.

    SOUNDBITE: Abena

    People close to me, they are very very supportive, because they understand and they have seen my growth.

    SOUNDBITE: Abena

    Being independent is a must. It is something that we all have to demand and have. So you can actually, you know, be yourself, live your best life. You know, to the fullest.

    END CREDITS

     

    (Accra) – The Ghanaian government should provide rights-based mental health services and adequate support for housing, independent living, and job training for people with mental health conditions, Human Rights Watch said today, ahead of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 2023. Human Rights Watch released a short film featuring three people who were locked up because they have a mental health condition and who talk about what freedom and independence meant for their recovery.

    Human Rights Watch found that families often take people with real or perceived mental health conditions, or psychosocial disabilities, to faith-based or traditional healers because of widely held beliefs that such disabilities are caused by a curse or evil spirits, and because their communities have limited, if any, mental health services. According to the Ghana Mental Health Authority, there are more than 5,000 “prayer camps” and traditional healing centers across the country. Psychiatric facilities are also understaffed and in poor condition and continue to resort to forced treatment.

    “With the right government supports and services, as well as awareness-raising campaigns to combat stigma, people with mental health conditions can live full and independent lives, rather than languish in chains or hospital beds,” said Elizabeth Kamundia, deputy disability rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Ghana has an opportunity to demonstrate that universal human rights are indeed universal by educating the public about mental health and investing in community services.”

    Over the past decade, Human Rights Watch visited more than a dozen prayer camps and documented cases of people with psychosocial disabilities who were chained for long periods, some for years. Beyond deprivation of liberty, they endured horrific abuses, unsanitary conditions and lack of hygiene, and lack of access to health care.

    For its video, Human Rights Watch spoke with people with mental health conditions in Ghana who are living meaningful lives in the community with support. They include medical professionals, social media influencers, and avid churchgoers. Human Rights Watch found that they are loved by their families and appreciated for their contributions to their communities.

    One woman included in the video described being physically restrained in a psychiatric facility by as many as five men holding her down to forcibly inject her with medication. “I have been ostracized a lot,” she said. “You know, there were times where I lost employment opportunities. And it affected almost all aspects of my life.”

    With the support of her family and an accommodating employer, she is now thriving in the community. “Being independent is a must,” she said. “It is something that we all have to demand and have. So, you can actually … be yourself, live your best life.”

    Another woman in the video had been shackled, and describes when they took the shackles off and locked her in a room. “I would be in there in the room alone during the night,” she said. “I really didn’t like that experience, being alone locked up.” She now works as a mental health nurse. She said that Ghana’s government should raise awareness and reduce stigma so that families and communities can offer support, especially when a person is going through a crisis.

    A man in the video said he was locked away at a prayer camp in the Greater Accra area for two years when his children were still young. He said that he thought about them a lot and would sometimes cry bitterly. He is now married and supports his family as a receptionist at a church-based organization and a salesman. “That’s what I know is a good community,” he said. “You have your freedom, you have your peace.”

    The Ghanaian government should take a number of steps to meet its obligations under international human rights law. The Mental Health Authority should enforce the ban on shackling by adequately resourcing the visiting committees who monitor these facilities and refer cases to the newly established Mental Health Tribunal.

    The government should take steps to adopt a levy, envisioned in the 2012 Mental Health Act, that would fund desperately needed mental health services across the country. Donors to Ghana, including the United Kingdom, United States, and Canada, should support funding for health services that includes mental health and is adequate to meet the needs. Investment also should be made in public education campaigns to fight the entrenched stigma and misinformation about mental health.

    “The Ghanaian government should make community services for people with mental health conditions the norm, rather than the exception,” Kamundia said. “That way, they too can have a life free of chains as guaranteed for all under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”



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