When the nation was coming to terms with the gory images of the accident that happened on the Kintampo road on Wednesday, 17th February, 2016, another despicable gory incident was reported in the Assin Akrofuom in the Assin South District where a man butchered his entire family to death.
If the careless act of a driver would throw many families into agony and wailing then the action of Akwasi Ganu, an ex-convict would leave an entire community thrown into shock and sadness. This man whom many believed had mental challenges butchered and killed six members of his household including his father, mother, younger sister, and a cousin. The cause of his action is still unknown but a good guess would point to his mental unstableness. What would make someone commit such a nefarious crime has been what has occupied my thought since the incident?
Was he to blame- has been the question I asked when the news first broke and was he even aware of his action? Definitely he was aware of his action even if he was not in his right senses. Did the family realise he was a danger to them and what did they do to ensure he received adequate mental health care? The community responded in revenge by beating him to death. But was the mob justice adequate and best punishment for him? What did the community also do all this while to ensure it did not end the way it happened?
As tragic as this incident may be, the drive of this article is to look at the state of mental health care in the country. It is said that everyone of us is at risk of mental illness. If this is the case, then we need to attach seriousness to issues of mental health care.
Society should see mental health care as any other illness for which persons suffering from could walk into any health facility for care and treatment. This is where we are yet to get to as a nation. Mental health is now a universal human right issue but sadly in Ghana, such people are rather brutally abused. They are deprived of essential health care, marginalized and discriminated against by family and society. They walk about on our streets unattended to, sometimes posing security threat to residents. We live as though we do not care about their existence in our midst.
According to reports, Ghana has an estimated figure of three million people living with mental disabilities. This is not something we should be proud of as a nation. Dr. Akwasi Osei, the Principal Chief Psychiatrist, is reported to have said 97 out of a 100 mental patients who require health care, do not get it. This calls for serious action to avoid such incidents as happened in Assin Akrofuom and I believe the many reported cases of abuse from people suffering from disabilities. We do not want such wicked acts perpetuated on innocent people by their own because society cared a little about their state.
Government must give more meaning to the Mental Health law by ensuring more psychiatric hospitals are put up across the country and not only in Accra and Kumasi. Also, more budgetary allocation should go into the mental health care. The government must also ensure mental facilities have the adequate numbers in personnel as the current ration is alarming. We are told we have only 12 practicing psychiatrists instead of the 150 to enable them adequately care for our 25 million population. Interestingly, we also have just 12,700 psychiatric nurses instead of the 30,000 and 4 clinical psychiatrists instead of a 100.
Families also have a role to play in here. They must ensure that the first place of call for the treatment of mental disorders should not be faith based healing centres, where most human rights abuse of people suffering from mental disorders occur. Medical facilities should rather be our first resort. But one can entirely not blame them when there are no such facilities readily available to help them in their distress. This also is not to discount the role of healing centres to the fight against mental disabilities. I think as a matter of principle government must put in place control measures to check the operations of such centres. It is inhuman to have people chained to tress, beaten with rods, left under the mercy of the scorching sun, sometimes pathetically made to sleep at the same stop they urinate and nature themselves. Some are also starved for days and many more that cannot be allowed to continue no matter the state of the person.
Society must know we are all at risk if we continue with the stigmatization of people living with mental disorders. They pose a danger to us and a warm reception of them would reduce the risk we shall expose ourselves to if we reject them. Akwasi Ganu’s case was one of neglect and rejection by society.
Let us all get involve with mental health care as we all are at risk of at a point in our life. It is not exclusive to a particular people.