The saying that mental health is total health must enjoin all well-meaning Ghanaians home and abroad to resolve and join hands to push for the passage of the Mental Health Bill into law, which is now in a limbo. Consequently we shall all be living witnesses to the reforms, improvements and humane treatment in the mental health care system in our country.
The Mental health bill is a draft law that acknowledges the current international instruments and obligations on human rights as an important tool to promote and protect the rights of persons with psychosocial disabilities as well as facilitate access to mental health care.
The bill adopts a human rights based approach in accordance with international agreements for the mental health care needs as well as to prevent discrimination in all forms while offering equal opportunities to all persons with psychosocial disabilities in Ghana.
Among others, the bill contains provisions protecting human rights that will help mentally deranged persons the right to proper treatment, privacy and autonomy, confidentiality, information and free movement.
Drafting of the bill was commenced in 2004 and completed in 2006 with local experts and the World Health Organisation (WHO) consultants from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Canada, USA and Switzerland involved.
The current state of the bill is that we know the bill has been sent to cabinet waiting to be submitted to Parliament. Persons with mental disorders are also entitled to the fundamental human rights and freedoms provided by the national constitution of Ghana.
Our brothers and sisters who not by their fault are mentally unsound must not be discriminated against in anyway whatsoever in accommodation, medical treatment, food, right to information through any form of media, employment among others.
When passed into law a Mental Health Authority shall establish a Mental Health Review Tribunal consisting of a legal practitioner, a psychiatric and three others deemed fit, with one being a female.
It shall among its national duties hear and investigate, review, monitor, approve and reject complaints of persons, cases of involuntary admissions and requests of intrusive and irreversible treatment.
The tribunal shall also have the power to direct the discharge of a person with mental disability detained under the Act.
It is very sad to see persons with all kinds of mental disabilities roaming the streets and other public places. Some even invade the premises of food vendors and have to wait and beg for food.
The Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies, which are responsible for the well being of people with mental disorders found in public places in their jurisdictions, are doing nothing about them.
When passed into law the Act will de-emphasize institutional care; this means not just dumping patients at mental health facilities and leaving them to the “system”. In effect it will place emphasis on community care.
Under the bill mental health care will become cheaper to government and individuals for the various control, protection and monitoring measures that will be put in place by the law.
Currently, places of seclusion for the mentally derailed in the country have a prison-like atmosphere. Dr. Catejan Jones-Takyi, a psychiatric at the regional hospital in Sunyani recently cautioned that facilities at the psychiatric hospitals in the country could collapse if immediate steps were not taken to salvage them.
He observed that the poor funding, dilapidated structures, compounded by lack of logistics and inadequate drugs were indications of that danger.
Research shows that the first mental related law in Ghana named the Lunatic Asylum Ordinance; Cap 79 was passed in 1888 by the British Colonial government to arrest persons with psychosocial disabilities to be confined.
To this end, the Accra Psychiatric hospital was built in 1906 as an asylum to house the mentally challenged with prisons wardens in-charge.
This also led to the passage of the Mental Health Decree in 1972 by the National Redemption Council. This is the current law in place but largely not practiced and ineffective. Attempts were also made in 1996 to amend this law but to no avail.
Mr. Sampson Fordjour, Principal Nursing Officer of the Psychiatric Unit at the regional hospital in Sunyani told this reporter the unit last year attended to 1,451 new cases and 10,074 re-attendant cases.
He mentioned acute psychosis, substance abuse, epilepsy, neurosis, depression, mania, bipolar affective disorder, schizophrenia as some of the diseases reported at the unit.
Father Peter Gyabaah Kanor, Director of the psychosocial center of the Kintampo College of Health also admitted at a workshop organised by the Mission of Hope International, an NGO in Sunyani, that the passage of the mental health bill would go a long way to protect the rights of mental patients.
He said it was unfortunate that some women alleged to have professed as being witches were kept at the Gambaga witch camp in the Northern region.
“There is no real proof that they are witches but there is scientific evidence that some people who profess to be speaking with the devil or hearing voices of other may be hallucinating, a symptom of some psychiatric disorders”.
We should all bear in mind that our brothers and sisters who have all forms of psychosocial disabilities are also God’s creation and our creator will question us in eternity if we continue to discriminate and trample upon their fundamental human rights and freedoms. GNA
By Dennis Peprah