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Opinions of Sunday, 11 June 2017

Columnist: Afedzi Abdullah

Increased mental patients on our streets worrying

Psychiatric disorders (mental illness) according to experts can be caused by a predisposing factor.

This means that it is genetic and could run in a family with history of mental illness and members have higher chances of catching the disease.

It could also be precipitated by the abuse of drugs especially cannabis, alcohol and perpetuated by discrimination, isolation, financial issues and some form of accidents.

Some of the signs and symptoms are disturbed or disruptive behaviour, unkempt appearance, disorientation to place time or person, distortion in perception, poor judgment and orientation.

Like in most illnesses, delays in early detection, treatment and support for the patient can cause distress, increase the risk of relapse and can be harmful for the individual, their friends, family and care givers.

There is a disturbing trend that had emerged over the years but nothing seem to have been done about it.

A tour across the major cities and towns in the country may reveal a lot of mental patients, both young and old on the streets.

There is no doubt that the number of mentally deranged people patrolling the principal streets especially in the capital cities have increased. These persons some of them stark naked, mostly drink from the gutters and eat from refuge dumps. They often carry large luggage’s full of rubbish.

The dangers they pose

Mad people are a very dangerous and they must not be ignored. The scenario where mad people have murdered many people and caused mayhem across the country is very rampant but painful.

The recent butchering of a number of people by their mentally deranged relatives as well as those who are attacked on the streets and farms by these persons should be a wakeup call to the authorities and all in the society.

A case in point was a five year- old boy who was butchered by a mental patient at Asikuma Gyamena in the Asikuma-Odoben-Brakwa District of the Central Region and later died at the Cape Coast Teaching Hospital where he was admitted sometime last year.

According to the community members this same mental patient often rapes women on knife point, yet he still walks around freely.

In another instance, a mad man who patrols around the Takoradi market circle area frequently rapes women.

Many market women have fallen victim and although many people are aware of it, nothing had been done to get him out of there.

Also, there were recent report in the Ashanti Region where a madman butchered four people including a school boy and a nursing mother at Abrepo Junction.

Indeed, the appearance of these mad men and women on the streets is very scary and society seem to have completely ignored anything concerning them and that is very dangerous.

There is the possibility that there is no institution mandated to rid the streets of such dangerous people.

Sanitation concerns

There is the need to check the activities of these mentally unstable people who usually go round collecting refuse ranging from plastics, dirty cloths, leftover foods, poly bags and dumping them at strategic places thereby creating garbage dumps sometimes at the outskirts and the middle of cities.

State of Mental Health care in Ghana

Although mental health care is an integral part of the country's health delivery chain, the three main mental health facilities are in very deplorable state making the delivery of such services very difficult for both patients and health practitioners.

The Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital in the Komenda -Edina -Eguafo -Abrem Municipality of the Central Region for instance is in a dire need of funds to cater for its inmates.

The situation has led to the discharge of some 82 patients who are said to be in stable condition to their families to continue treatment from the house with a subsequent temporal ban on admission of new inmates.

Some of the problems cited by the hospital included inadequate drugs supply, feeding and other logistics for their care, as the government subvention has not been forthcoming.

The question however is, what happens to these patients who have been released? Surely majority of them will end up on the streets because it takes committed people to give them the requisite care.

The situation looks the same in the other two psychiatric hospitals in the country, namely Patang and Accra as infrastructural development had virtually been non-existence.

Though there are enough spaces at their facilities, the hospitals are also unable to admit more patients due to lack of funds, which had resulted in huge debts to their suppliers.

Attitude of family members

Another challenge is that some family members of the mentally challenged are not helping matters as they abandon their sick relatives at the hospital whilst others fail to send them for review.

Coupled with that, some families after the inmates have been discharged isolate and discriminate against them.

For others too fail to seek early treatment for their mental patients at the hospital and rather take them to prayer camps to seek spiritual healing and in most instances the treatment they go through include starvation, physical assault and chaining for days and this eventually compound their situation.

The need for the passage of the LI on mental health

The psychiatric hospitals as a matter of urgency needs regular and consistent release of funds and budgetary allocations and availability of tracer medicines.

They also need more doctors, laboratory technicians and other staff including sign interpreters to help them communicate with dumb patients.

Dr Akwasi Osei, Chief Executive Officer of the Mental Health Authority (MHA) in an interview with the Ghana News Agency last year, expressed the need for the passage of the Legislative Instrument (LI) on mental health as it will go a long way to help remove mental patients from the streets.

The LI, which included the establishment of a Mental Health Fund is expected to give the Mental Health Authority the power to source for funding from private entities and also make mental health treatment community based.

The Bill also stipulates the establishment of a Mental Health Board to be responsible for mental health matters, and make it mandatory for Government to build more mental health institutions across the country.

This, according to Dr Osei, would create the avenue to provide treatment to mental patients on the streets of the major towns and cities in the country.

“Gradually we can get rid of all the mental patients from the streets, because the rate at which mental patients continue to pour on the street is very outrageous and much attention has to be given to it,” he pointed out.

But after a number years of appeals by the MHA and other stakeholders to get the LI passed, it has still not seen the light of day.

Though Parliament must be commended for the passage of the Mental Health Bill, passing the LI to give legal backing to the MHA to function effectively would inure to the benefit of the nation so far as mental health care is concern.

Way forward

Mental health care is a shared responsibility and therefore the government, benevolent individuals, families and organisations must give it immediate intervention to help fix the challenges.

It is imperative for families, relatives and friends to desist from neglecting their mentally ill relatives, they should give them the needed attention and care and not leave them to their fate.

The MHA should be able to design systematic programmes and liaise with relevant bodies to clear mental health patients from the streets for people to go about their daily activities without fear.