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Written by: Malcolm Akatinga Ali, Mental Health Nurse and Mental Health Advocate

The belief of mental illness having a spiritual cause dates back to medieval times, and has since been a challenge to scientific knowledge and biomedical care providers in modern times.

In the historical development of the care and treatment of the mental illness, during the periods of Demonology and the Dark Ages, the causes of mental illness were believed to be caused by spirits and demons. Various forms of inhuman treatments were meted out to the mentally ill such as flogging, starving, purging with emetics as treatments and in some cases as punishment when the patients were believed to be demon possessed.

Today despite the enlightenment in scientific knowledge and medicine, some of these ancient practices and beliefs are still being carried out on people with mental illness especially in Ghana where people give spiritual meaning to almost everything that happens in their lives than it having a natural cause. For instance, exorcisms, a practice where demons and spirits are driven out of a person believed to be possessed are still practice in this modern era but have been metamorphosed to what is now known as spiritual deliverance.

Over spiritualisation of life circumstances, including our health is undoubtedly a deeply ingrained phenomenon that has permeated and influences almost every aspect of our life, from eating food, choosing relationships, joining associations, finding a partner for life to seeking health care. One’s religious doctrine and belief greatly influence his need for health care. Even at a point of life and death in the hospital, some people still turn down blood transfusion in the name of their religious doctrines.

A professor once said “Africans are notoriously religious.” Indeed Ghanaians are notoriously religious and spiritual. Everything that happens in their lives is given a spiritual meaning other than it having a natural cause. Some people are quick to confide their health problems to their pastors and spiritual leaders more than they do to their doctors.

The understanding of mental illness and mental health in our part of the world is a worrisome situation that needs much attention just as mental illness itself. When even the educated ones who are supposed to know better troop to the prayer camps to seek answers to their psychological and mental health problems, then you know there is a challenge for mental healthcare providers in Ghana.

Apparently, education on mental illness in Ghana is low as many people still associate mental illness with witchcraft and superstition. Many are ignorant about mental illness and mental health and hence are not able to differentiate between behaviour of mental patients from sheer criminal behaviour. This has led to many mental patients being attacked and in some instances lynched for displaying inappropriate behaviour in the public such attempting to steal, unlawful entry to houses and attacking people for no apparent reason. Others have also been thrown to jail for things they did as a result of their mental illnesses.

In May 2015, an old woman by name Madam Barbara Boakye-Yiadom, who was suffering from mental illness and found her way onto the streets of Madina in Accra, was accused as a transgender witch and was nearly lynched by a mob who had surrounded her and taking pictures of her nakedness. She was said to have crushed with an electricity poll and landed when flying in the night. Social media was ladened with the naked pictures of this innocent woman who instead of getting help from the society for her unfortunate illness was rather subjected to global shame. She clearly appeared confused and helpless with obvious signs of mental health problem but that eluded the Ghanaian society who was enjoining her antics. Even journalists, who by virtue of their educational enlightenment, should have known better could not also resist the whims but carried the story as a hot cake.

It later emerged that the woman has been staying in Canada for most of her life and had returned from Canada to seek treatment for her mental condition in Ghana.

Faith leaders are the first point of contact to most people and their families when they are experiencing mental health problems in Ghana. They do so because they belief mental illness is a spiritual problem so they will rather beseech their spiritual leaders first for help than seeking biomedical care. The activities and the role these prayer camps and other spiritual homes play therefore cannot be ruled out from the equation of mental health care in Ghana.

There are rampant human right abuses of persons with mental illness at most prayer camps in Ghana. Mental patients at some prayer camps are housed in poor and unsafe environment. The care givers at the prayer camps lack the requisite knowledge to professionally handle the patients. Their patients are subjected to beating and canning, mishandling, chaining them in the sun and rains and to the mercy of mosquito bites and harsh weather conditions at night. In some cases where the patients are believed to be possessed by demons as in the era of demonological and Dark Ages, severe beatings are meted out on them to drive out the demon from the person. These practices at the prayer camps in the long run worsens the plights of these innocent patients and do not help patients to recover early. Faith healers in some prayer camps, after struggling with their patients for months or even years to no avail then direct them to go to the psychiatric hospital, claiming they have done with the spiritual realm of the condition, leaving the physical aspect.

This poses a great challenge for mental healthcare providers as many end up with complicated physical conditions at the prayer camps thereby making their medical prognosis poor.

In contrast, in a mental healthcare setting, be it a psychiatric hospital or psychiatric unit at the general hospital, mental healthcare providers together with other biomedical care givers provide a serene and a humane environment for their patients and this helps in their early recovery process. The professional training acquired by the biomedical care providers at the psychiatric hospitals helps them to understand the behavior of their patients as part of their conditions and relate well with them. The rights of patients are respected. The psychiatric hospital is therefore a family home for both healthcare providers and patients and their relatives.

Faith healers and their activities at the prayer camps preach spiritual cause of mental illness, they do not believe in physical cause. This, they are able to assuage the average Ghanaian who already has a predilection to spiritual meaning of life circumstances to patronize their outfit than attending psychiatric hospital when faced with mental health problem. This has given rise to the proliferation of prayer camps and other spiritual homes across the length and breadth of the country.

Biomedical care providers are constantly faced with the challenge of having to discharge patients against medical advice since most of the patients and relatives belief their problem is spiritual and always demand taking patients to prayer camps. They support their action with a quotation in the bible, Ephesians 6:12. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against religious principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

Biomedical care providers are not are happy with the situation where demand to discharge their patients against medical advice because it interrupts medical treatment of patients and challenges mental health care providers and other stakeholders to intensify the education on mental illness to demystify the myths surrounding mental illness. However the limited resources in the sector are a major hindrance to accomplishing this mission.

Prayer camps and other spiritual homes do not believe in long term taking of psychiatric medication and have therefore been preaching against that. Whiles mental healthcare providers recognise the importance of patients’ faith in the treatment process and thus respect patients’ belief; some faith healers on other hand are completely against long term taking and adherence to psychiatric medication. They argue that taking medication for spiritual problems is tantamount to lack of faith and would rather depend on God for healing through prayers. Psychiatric Patients who insist on going to prayer camps and other spiritual homes to continue treatment are advised by mental healthcare providers to continue taking their medications alongside the spiritual prayers but most patients end up abandoning their drugs because their pastors preach against it as lack of faith. This has seen patients relapsed on many occasions and are brought back to the hospital for treatment, a worrying trend of vicious cycle in the metal health care in Ghana and in most African countries.

Fasting and prayers, especially ‘dry fasting’ at some prayer camps is hindering and retrogression mental health care in Ghana. Psychiatric patients who find their way to prayer camps to exercise their religious faith and in a desperate quest to get healed stop taking their medication whiles they go into fasting. After stopping the medication for sometimes they relapsed and are either being chained at the prayer camps or send back to the psychiatric hospital. Mental healthcare providers often advise their patients never to stop taking their drugs in the name of fasting or any other reason. They are further advised to confide in their caregivers at the hospital any concerns they have regarding their treatments and fasting. But in a country where over 90% of the population identify themselves as religious, many tend to heed to the word of their pastors or spiritual leaders than what biomedical care providers would tell them. It is therefore not surprising that a patient’ relative would call his or her pastor on phone to complain about a patient’ odd behaviour on a hospital bed instead of reporting to the healthcare providers.

When some prayer camps are unable to control and manage their aggressive patients, they send them to psychiatric hospital to take injections to calm them and return to the camps, and indeed their caregivers go to the psychiatric hospital and insist on going back when they are told by healthcare providers to stay for further management. Mental healthcare providers, through the psychiatric social work department and the community psychiatric nurses are not able to effectively track and monitor patients at home because of the activities of prayer camps and spiritual homes. Most of these faith healers are on the media landscape touting triumphantly of having the best cure for all mental health problems, quoting biblical verses and scenarios to back their claims.

It is important to state, however that some of the prayer camps are collaborating with mental health care providers to give care to their client whiles upholding and maintaining their philosophy of spiritual causes of mental illness. Community psychiatric nurses pay regular visits to these camps to give health education and management of aggressive patients and also give education on the need to continue taking psychiatric drugs whiles at the prayer camps.

However, some other prayer camps resist attempts by mental healthcare providers to give them guidelines on how to attend to their clients, including humane treatments and respecting the fundamental human rights of their patients. The Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital in collaboration with the Mental Health Authority, in June this year rescued some patients from the shackles of welded chains in a prayer camp in Nyankomase called Jesus Divine Prayer Centre in the central region. The patients were anchored to trees with chains for many years with no intention of releasing them in the near future. The chains were released with the help of hacksaws and the patients were sent to Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital for treatment. Most of them have since been treated and discharged home. The exercise was taken after several failed attempts by healthcare providers for the owner of the camp to improve the condition of the camp and care of the patients.

It is apparent that faith healers and their activities at their homes are first respondents to persons and families facing mental health problems in our belief system, their roles and impacts on mental health care, therefore cannot be underestimated. It is important for mental healthcare providers and spiritual leaders or faith healers to synergise their efforts towards ensuring optimal care for persons facing mental health problems. Whiles faith healers belief in the spiritual causes of mental health illness, it is imperative to collaborate with mental health care providers for guidelines and guidance on acceptable standard of mental healthcare.

Faith healers and other religious leaders can play a crucial role in mental health care when giving guidelines and training in mental health on treatment of mental illness. They can help to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.

In the light this, the mental health Act 846 (Act 2012) has made provisions to regularise the activities of prayer camps and faith healers in Ghana, including the protection of the right of persons with mental illness. The Act in its current stage is however financially crippled to meet this exercise. Stakeholders in the mental healthcare sector, including the Mental Health Authority are pushing for a legislative instrument (LI) for the Act to financially stand the test of time.

The legislative instrument is currently before parliament, appealing to the conscience of the law makers to give it a thumb up. When done, the LI will determine a levy for mental health care in Ghana and this will help mitigate the challenges in the mental health sector including the activities of prayer camps and spiritual homes. Until that is done, the myriad challenges facing the mental health care sector in Ghana, including the impact of prayer camps and spiritual homes will continue to glare.

Written by:

Malcolm Akatinga Ali, Mental Health Nurse and Mental Health Advocate,

Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital

Cape Coast.


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The ‘notoriety’ of the name Ankaful, when mentioned, is enough to hijack someone’s thought to fixate on mental patients before further clarification could release them from such prejudice. The inclination to associate or think of mental illness or psychiatric patients when the town Ankaful is mentioned or vice versa is predominantly attributed to the presence of this huge and beautiful edifice of Nkrumah’s antique located in the land of Ankaful called Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital.

This same town is widely known for housing some of the country’s security prisons, thereby making it more popular than one could imagine. It also has the finest and largest maximum security prison in Ghana to its credit. But Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital arguably seems to have won the marathon of popularity as it is more associated to and readily comes to mind when Ankaful is mentioned than the former. Anytime the name Ankaful is mentioned, ‘mad people’ comes to mind first.

To wit, as Gambaga is to witches camp, Ankaful is to ‘mad people’.

A town known for mental patients and prisoners can even be remembered by a primary pupil when quizzed at anytime. This is so because prisoners are social vices and law-breakers. Mental patients are people suffering from brain infection, chemical imbalance of the brain and an overwhelming psychosocial pressure that weigh them down and alter their behaviour patterns to malfunction in society. These two phenomena in the land of Ankaful are skewed more of bad and sad news than good and perhaps explains the indelibility of the name Ankaful in people’s minds.

Generally speaking, central region and for that matter Cape Coast, and many of its towns are endowed with many historical and attractive monuments that draw tourists all over the world to these sites. Some of these sites include Elmina Castle, the Cape Coast Castle, the Kakum National Park, and many other places including beaches.

Though Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital is not a tourist destination, it is worth visiting the facility on humanitarian grounds. It is said that, to understand life man needs to visit three places; the hospital, the prison, and the cemetery. In the hospital you will understand that nothing is more beauty than health. You will see what people go through each day and appreciate the value of your life and live a positive life.

People are bedridden in hospitals, others can’t make a simple meaningful sentence nor think for themselves because their thinking faculty has been distorted.

Man’s health is his wealth, therefore if you are blessed with a healthy life devoid of illness, count yourself a bless soul but don’t forget that others are battling each day for survival in the hospitals. Remember also that some people are in the psychiatric hospitals too. These people need your help, they need your prayers and support.

Perhaps you might want to visit these historical sites in central region in the near future. Do well to visit Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital as well and share with the patients. Show them love and put smiles on their faces for there is much blessing in giving than receiving.

As the name depicts Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital is a specialised hospital in treating and managing psychiatric patients. That is obvious. The ordinary person will say they treat ‘mad people’. That is also not far from the reality. But apart from treating the ‘mad people’ as is widely known, what other things do you know the hospital does?

Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital is touted as one of Nkrumah’s accomplishments built in 1965. It has seven (7) wards, males and females and like the general hospital, patients are admitted and treated until they are fine or ‘normal’ as the layman will say before they are discharged home back to society to function well. The question as to whether society accepts them back is another topic worth discussion on another day.

Stigma is still rife despite efforts by stakeholders in the sector to eradicate it through education. There is a perennial phenomenon where psychiatric patients go through a lot of humiliations, stereotype and disrespect in our society. Society relegate them to the background and does not include them in decision-making even if they can make meaningful inputs. All this with the misperception that the person has had history of mental illness.

These untoward practices and by extension, inhumane treatments meted out to psychiatric patients can subtly be attributed to public ignorance of mental illness and mental health and our traditional believes. We have been made to believe that even when a mad person is cured of his sickness he still reserves a little madness to scare children. This is the reason why society neglect persons living with mental illness and those treated and reintegrated into society.

It’s about time the public understand that a person treated of mental illness can live a normal life like any other. They can function well if society accept them. Society should not marginalise and stigmatise them for it triggers their condition. Marginalisation and stigma are some of the reasons why psychiatric patients relapse.

Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital has revolutionised from age to date and the status quo of paradigm shift is worth commending. The facility does not only take care of mental patients even though it is a psychiatric hospital. It also attend to general medical cases as well within the region and beyond. It has grown from strength to strength and has incorporated more general services to the general public.

The outpatient department now operates 24/7 and all general medical cases, both detained and outpatient basis are given equal attention as the psychiatric cases. Because of the holistic care rendered to the general public, patients from other hospitals opt to continue treatment at the facility. Unlike some general hospitals that would not hesitate to refer minor psychiatric cases to psychiatric hospitals even if they have emergent medical conditions, Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital receives and treats all general medical cases and rarely refers to other hospitals.

Some of the speciality services now incorporated include epileptic clinic, substance use clinic, diabetic and hypertension clinic and a general medical outpatient department (O.P.D) to take care of non-psychotic cases. These clinics run three times a week.

Tuesdays for epileptic clinic where epilepsy cases and other seizure related cases are seen on outpatient basis.

Wednesdays for substance use disorders and Alcoholic Anonymous meetings.

Thursdays for hypertension and diabetes clinic. Patients with hypertension and diabetes are specially managed every Thursdays.

Special clinics are rarely found even in some general hospitals but this is a psychiatric hospital incorporating general services in full gear and is poised to go higher to serve the general public not only in mental illness.

The hospital also has a maternity unit. You might be thinking if it’s for the staff and the patients, no, it is open to the general public and serves the nearby communities and far.

Beyond taking care of psychiatric patients and the above few revelations, the hospital has many plans in its shield to improving health care delivery to the general public. Beyond what you know about Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital and what you probably been thinking all the while about the facility these are but a few of the new dimensions of the revolutionary era.

If you didn’t know the hospital go this extra mile in health delivery, today you know. You should patronise the facility if you are living in or around Cape Coast and K.E.E.A municipality.

It is a stress free environment and the dedicated nurses are more than accommodating. The nurses and patients relationship are exceptionally good. Having had integrated knowledge in both general and psychiatric nursing, the nurses understand human behaviour and know how to handle clients and their relatives. No discrimination, no preferential treatment. To the psychiatric nurse, every behaviour is meaningful. They will put smiles on your face to relief your problem even before you are seen by the doctor.

If you have a relative, friend or love one being managed for hypertension, diabetes, drug user/addict or epilepsy and is living in Cape Coast and near, advise them to come to Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital for best care and management.

If you are going through stress or you have been facing emotional and psychological problems, Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital is your home of salvation.

By Malcolm Akatinga Ali (Registered Mental Nurse). Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital, Cape Coast.

Article originally published on modernghana.com


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The recent spate of suicide in the country is an alarming trend that calls for serious societal concern. Society ought to introspect itself and ask thought provoking questions as to why suicide seems to be on the ascendency within the first quarter of 2017. What has gone wrong and what role can society play to help prevent suicide. How would society identify someone having a suicidal thought and what help can people offer to such people.

This is not the first time Ghana is recording suicide cases but the current episode seems unprecedented and Ghana is will be doomed if it continuous in this path without adequate preventive measures put in place to curtail the unfortunate situation.

Key Facts About Suicide

  1. Close to 800, 000 people die due to suicide every year.
  1. For every suicide there are many more people who attempt suicide every year.
  1. A prior suicide attempt is the single most important risk factor for suicide in the general population.
  1. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15–29-year-olds.
  1. 78% of global suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries.
  1. Ingestion of pesticide, hanging and firearms are among the most common methods of suicide globally.

Source – WHO

 

What is Suicide?

Suicide is the act of deliberately ending one’s life. People who commit suicide do not really want to die. They want to escape from a painful situation. They are being weighed down by overwhelming psychosocial factors that they are unable control. Ending their lives becomes the only option they think will relieve them from such problems as pains, frustrations, debilitating illnesses, economic hardships and many other factors. The World Health Organisation estimates that approximately 1 million people commit suicide each year.

People who commit suicide or have suicidal thoughts have the feeling of hopelessness, dejection and think life is worthless. They feel no help can ever come their way to solve their problems and ending their lives is the only option for them to employ. It must however be noted that mental illnesses account for 95% of all suicide cases. These include; Depression, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Alcohol use Disorder etc.

Stigma on mental illness and societal rejection of persons suffering from mental illness is a contributing factor of suicide. Persons treated of mental illness and are able to function well in society are being despised for the mere fact that they have once suffered mental illness before. Society stigmatises such people even if they can offer meaningful contributions to their community despite having suffered mental illness before. Instead of society measuring these people by their capabilities, they rather stigmatise them. The stigma, the rejection and lack of ‘humane treatment’ of persons living with mental illness make them think they are worthless. This attitude of society towards the mentally ill and the deprived makes them feel hopeless in life and they think suicide becomes an option to take away their pains.

Some of the methods used in committing suicide include, hanging by rope, drinking poison, electrocution, self-mutilation with sharp object, fallen from a height, using guns etc.

Why do People Commit Suicide

For some people life is sweet. However, life can be very tormenting at times. People go through a lot of physical and psychological pain that seem to have no end in sight. These psychosocial problems become unbearable to some people over a period of time. They feel alone and helpless and may want to end their life to escape the pain and feeling they are experiencing.

Below are some of the reasons why people commit suicide:

  1. Mental illness (about 95% of all suicide cases) such as Depression, Schizophrenia, Alcohol or drug use Disorder and Bipolar Disorder
  2. Death of loved one – relative or friend
  3. Failure in examination and failure to achieve set goals in life following hopelessness
  4. Financial problems and economic hardships
  5. Relationship break-ups and marital problems
  6. Physical, emotional and sexual abuse
  7. Societal rejection and dejection
  8. Chronic pain and illness

Who Is At Risk Of Suicide?

Since mental illness constitutes about 95% of all suicide cases, mental patients are at risk of suicide, especially those suffering from depression. Everyone is at risk of suicide depending on individual’s level of response to life stresses such as financial problems and losses.

People may have suicidal behaviour when they experience devastating events such as earthquake, tsunami, conflicts and wars, physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Suicide rate is also high among prisoners, refugees, migrants, etc. People who have attempted suicide before have a higher risk of suicide.

Possible Signs Someone Might Be Thinking Of Suicide

Most people with suicidal thinking communicate their intentions in one way or the other through written letters, verbal pronouncement, or gestures. These warning signs of suicide should not be taken lightly.

Warning Signs Of Suicide Include:

  1. Previous suicide attempts
  2. Sudden withdrawal from relatives and people
  3. Feeling depressed and loss of hope
  4. Refusing food
  5. Saying goodbye to people when they are not travelling and giving away their belongings
  6. Loss of interest in his or her environment they previously enjoyed
  7. Neglecting their personal hygiene
  8. Saying things like life is not worth living or it better to die than living
  9. Engaging in self-destructive or risky behaviour
  10. Indiscriminate and increased use of alcohol and other drugs
  11. Feeling worthless
  12. Talking about suicide or writing notes about suicide
  13. Seeking access to something, they can us to kill themselves such as gun, knife, rope or poison

Preventing Suicide

Suicide is preventable. Society has a collective responsibility in preventing suicide. From the parents and guardians at home, the Pastors and Imams at religious homes, counsellors, friends and relations, to the teacher in the classroom, all has a role to play. People ought to be more alert to identify clues and communication of someone who may be thinking of suicide. There should be awareness creation on suicide. They should also be a national policy on suicide.

People should be encouraged to seek counselling when confronted with overwhelming psychological pressure and stress. Adequate resting and regular training should also be encouraged to reduce stress.

Other measures to prevent suicide on people who may be having suicidal thoughts include:

  1. Follow up care for people with previous history of suicide attempt
  2. Reducing access to tools and items they can use to kill themselves
  3. Early identification of persons with mental disorder and treatment
  4. Showing love and compassion to relatives in crises
  5. Asking them directly what they are thinking about and your willingness to help them overcome their challenges.
  6. Persons with suicidal thoughts should not be left alone
  7. Tell them they are not alone in such situations and that there is hope for a better tomorrow despite their current situations.

Share your problem with someone you trust if you are thinking of suicide. Remember you are not alone facing that problem. Seek professional advice if you are experiencing psychological and mental problems.


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