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Opinions of Monday, 12 October 2015

Columnist: Public Agenda

Dignity in mental health

Opinion Opinion

World Mental Health Day was commemorated globally last Saturday, October 10. To mark the occasion, the Stakeholder Council of Mental Health Leadership and Advocacy Programme (mhLAP) issued a statement whose contents we find instructive and very useful.

We of Public Agenda associate ourselves with the issues raised and therefore publish it for the perusal and action by of all those concern.

Please read on …
The preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Right states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and by extension, society ought to “act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”.

Article 15 (1) of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana also emphasises the same point by referring to the dignity of all persons as inviolable. The emphasis on dignity as fundamental human right points to the obvious: that irrespective of our status in society, we are all entitled to a dignified life.

Despite this recognition, the reality is that society's approach to issues of mental health compared to other health related conditions does not reflect this understanding. It is within this context that we in Mental Health Society of Ghana feel that this year's theme dubbed: “Dignity in Mental Health” is very appropriate. It is appropriate because it helps all of us to reflect on the extent of our contributions and commitment to promoting mental health.

We have shown commitment as a country, despite the several years of advocacy, by enacting a mental health law. The law has fine provisions to change the way we approach mental health. Unfortunately, there is too much delay in implementing some of the provisions in the mental health law. These delays make mockery of the sacrosanct nature of human dignity as far as mental health is concerned.

The law provides for the setting up of visiting committees with adequate resources to monitor the activities of institutions and individuals providing care to victims of mental disability. This monitoring will ensure that care is given in accordance with best practice so that the dignity of people with mental disability can be guaranteed.

Sadly, these committees have not been constituted. Meanwhile, people with mental disabilities in institutions like the traditional healing centers and Christian prayer camps continue to face different forms of ill treatment. Even in the public psychiatric hospitals, we cannot say there is dignity in mental health.

The stakeholder council of mhLAP continues to work with Mental Health Society of Ghana (MEHSOG), to advocate for dignified life to people with mental disability by concentrating on the elimination of torture and abuse in these centers.

But this is not enough. We think that this year's theme underscores the need for civil society, religious organisations, government and individuals to collectively raise their voices to promote the rights of people with mental disability.

Mental disability is not an extra-ordinary health condition; it is a normal health condition and requires a dignified approach.