Implement The Mental Health Law

by Ernest Armah

The mental health bill was passed by Parliament of Ghana and assented to by then President Mills somewhere in 2010. It was a great relief to some of my lecturers, and my senior colleagues interning at the Accra Psychiatric Hospital. At long last, mental health has attained government recognition and  consideration.

Now, 3 years have passed and the now mental health law remains in one of those old dusty shelves at the parliament of Ghana. I guess after our MPs clamour for accommodation and all the nerves on the single spine have been straightened out, plans to implement the law would be commenced. But would the waiting be worth it?

A murder has occurred at the Accra psychiatric hospital recently. One of the inmates was strangled by another one whose chemical imbalance in the brain was at its worst.That’s an unfortunate incident. However, what’s more unfortunate is the stigmatization attached to mental illness in the country. At this point, it would be prudent for some of our shallow minded journalists to keep their mouths on lock. Scapegoating the Accra Psychiatric Hospital is just looking at the effect of a larger cause.

Most people consider the psychiatric hospital a dump site. Some of the inmates there have been there for over 10 years. Efforts to contact their families have been futile. This family irresponsibility combined with pressure on poor facilities and inadequate resources are some of the factors hindering the operation of mental health care in the country.

Some families would circulate a member with psychopathology around numerous prayer camps only to resort to the Psychiatric hospital when things have gone out of hand. A couple of reasons attributed to this attitude are ignorance and stigmatization. Here in Ghana, every odd behavior is given a superstitious label. It could be enemies at work or the devil himself.

Secondly, people don’t want to be seen frequenting the psychiatric hospital. Those who are seen are labelled as mad people. Already, there’s a negative perception of the mentally ill because the naked, unkempt and dirty people on the streets of Accra are seen as mad people, not people suffering from schizophrenia.

I hope the mental health law would be implemented this year.