The historical and current incidence of human rights violations in mental health care across nations has been variously described as a ‘global emergency’ and an ‘unresolved global crisis.’
This is evidenced by reports of physical and sexual abuse; discrimination and stigma; arbitrary detention; inability to access health care, vocational, and residential resources; and denial of self-determination in financial and marital matters, among other rights deprivations.
What is World Mental Health Day?
World Mental Health Day is an annual event that focuses on protecting and improving mental health. The day has been specially set aside to spread awareness about taking care of our mental health and removing the stigma of talking about it, especially among young people.
This year (2023), the theme for World Mental Health Day is ‘Mental Health is a Universal Human Right.’ The day serves as an opportunity for people and communities to unite behind the theme to improve knowledge, raise awareness, and drive actions that promote and protect everyone’s mental health as a universal human right.
Mental Health and Human Rights
To say that everyone has the right to mental health means that mental health is a basic human right for all people and that everyone, whoever and wherever they are, has a deserving and inherent right to the highest attainable standard of mental health. This means, among others, the right to available, accessible, acceptable, and good-quality care; and the right to liberty, independence, and inclusion in the community.
It is important to stress that having a mental health condition should never be a reason to deprive a person of their human rights or to exclude them from decisions about their own health. Unfortunately, however, people with mental health conditions in Ghana and around the world experience a wide range of human rights violations.
As a matter of fact, many more people with mental health conditions cannot access the mental health care they critically need or can only access care that violates their human rights.
Recognising mental health as a universal human right empowers people to stand up for their rights.
Human rights are universal and inalienable. All people everywhere in the world are entitled to them. People with mental health conditions must have access to good mental health services as well as education, income generation, housing opportunities, and social support in order to live independently and be included in their communities.
Challenging the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health
People with mental health conditions have the right to live their lives free from stigma and discrimination in places like schools and workplaces. Too often, the widespread stigma associated with mental health problems undermines the development and implementation of mental health policy. Stigma is the main cause of discrimination and exclusion; it affects people’s self-esteem, helps to disrupt their family relationships, limits their ability to socialise, and defeats efforts aimed at integrating them into communities. It also contributes to the abuse of human rights in some large institutions.
Human Rights Abuses in Specific Settings
The abuses include shackling, flogging, and forced fasting. It is important to mention that these treatments are not only aberrations to human rights but are potentially traumatising and may exacerbate mental health problems.
It is noteworthy that the treatment of persons with mental health conditions in Ghana has come under increasing international scrutiny following the publication of damning reports by influential actors including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, as well as critical media coverage.
In the last quarter of 2022, Human Rights Watch visited five prayer camps and traditional healing centres in the Eastern and Central regions and interviewed more than fifty people, including people with psychosocial disabilities, mental health professionals, staff at prayer camps and traditional healing centres, mental health advocates, religious leaders, and senior government officials. Human Rights Watch found in these camps that people were chained or confined in small cages, in some cases for more than seven months.
The reputable human rights organisation saw more than 60 people who were chained or caged, including some children. Again, in a herbal centre in Senya Bereku, Human Rights Watch found 22 men detained in a dark, stifling room, all of them with chains, no longer than half a metre, around their ankles. They were forced to urinate and defecate in a small bucket passed around the room.
Despite the sweltering conditions, the Human Rights Watch report in 2022 said these persons with mental health conditions were only allowed to bathe every two weeks and that people in these camps were held against their will, which amounts to indefinite detention.
In a popular prayer centre in the Eastern Region, a 40-year-old man held for more than two months at the centre said to the Human Rights Watch team, ‘We spend 24/7 locked up in this room’. In some other traditional healing centres, there are severe human rights abuses, including lack of adequate food, unsanitary conditions, lack of hygiene, lack of freedom of movement, etc.
What has been MindFreedom Ghana’s response?
As a local non-governmental advocacy and policy influence organisation, MindFreedom Ghana has been active in pushing for improvements in mental health services and monitoring of existing facilities in Ghana.
In addition, MindFreedom Ghana is engaged in advocacy on mental health issues for persons with mental health conditions with donor agencies, diplomatic missions, government-funded organisations, and civil society organisations to: reduce stigmatisation and discrimination against persons with mental health conditions; promote the human rights of persons with mental health conditions and their caregivers; support government-funded and donor agencies to improve their human rights performance in the context of mental health.
In more recent activities, MindFreedom Ghana has established and is currently managing community support networks in six regions of Ghana for persons with mental health conditions and their carers to promote their human rights and well-being. These networks are also avenues for information on persons with mental health and their human rights, livelihood empowerment, mental health medication, and quality community mental health work that promotes their human rights and psychological well-being.
Promoting the Human Rights of People with Mental Health Conditions and Preventing Violations
A lot of work has been done over the years, especially since the Mental Health Law (Act 846) was signed into law in 2012, to make sure that it and other related laws protect and promote mental health and are in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was created in 2006 to, among other things, stop violations and promote the rights of people with psycho
Second, to improve human rights in mental health services, ways should be found to measure and improve the quality of care and human rights conditions. This will help protect people with mental health problems from inhumane and degrading treatment, bad living conditions, and being forced to go to treatment or be admitted without their consent.
Another key issue in promoting mental health in Ghana will be for all hands, including those of the Ministry of Health, Ghana Health Service, health professionals, people with lived experience, NGOs, academic institutions, professional organisations, and other stakeholders, to work together to change attitudes and raise awareness by unifying their efforts in educating and advocating for the rights of people with mental health conditions.
The promotion of human rights in mental health also demands increased investment in mental health.
The government should also place modern psychotropic medicines on the Essential Medicines List and quickly place them under the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). In addition, the mental health workforce at each level of the health care system needs to be developed and trained to ensure that all people have access to good-quality mental health services that promote recovery and respect for human rights.
The incidence of human rights violations in mental health care across nations has been described as a ‘global emergency’ and an ‘unresolved global crisis.’ The relationship between mental health and human rights is complex and bidirectional. Human rights violations unfortunately continue to negatively impact mental health. It is in this context that MindFreedom Ghana wishes to use the occasion of World Mental Health Day 2023 to recognise that having good mental health is a universal human right and that everyone deserves to live in environments where mental health is protected. Together, we can make a difference and ensure a healthier, more inclusive world for everyone.
This media publication, which is in furtherance of the overall objective of World Mental Health Day, is also an important activity of a two-year project titled ‘Institutional Strengthening and Building Awareness to Fight the Corona Virus (COVID-19) Pandemic and Addressing Its Impact in Ghana,’ which MindFreedom Ghana is implementing with funding support from Open Society-Africa.
Source: Ghana News Agency