Human Rights Watch

multimedia newsroom

Ghana Breaks The Chains On Mental Health

Government Vows to Unshackle People With Psychosocial Disabilities

Monday 16 October 2017


When I picked up the chain that had been tied around his ankle I could barely lift it. It felt like a pile of bricks and made a heavy thumping sound when I dropped it to the ground. It was here, at Nyakumasi Prayer Camp in central Ghana several years ago, where I first met "Solomon" (not his real name), a man in his 50s with a ragged blue cloth around his waist and a thick metal chain around his ankle.

Solomon's parents had brought him to the camp because they thought he had a mental health condition. They – like many others – believed his disability was caused by a curse or demons, and brought him to the camp for spiritual healing. His 'treatment' consisted of regular prayers and a bit of medication, while being chained to the same spot – where he had to sleep, eat, and defecate – for nine-and-a-half long years. When I asked what he did all day, he replied: "Nothing." He said he didn't want to be there and wanted to be freed, but his pleas went unanswered.

In June, however, the Ghanaian government finally freed Solomon, along with 15 other people with real or perceived mental health conditions who were shackled in this camp, including two 12-year-old girls.

This week, I returned to Nyankumasi to see for myself. The sight of the shackles still lying beneath the trees was an eerie reminder of what was – and still is – a common practice. People in Ghana resort to shackling people with psychosocial disabilities because they see no alternative. There are not enough community mental health services to cope. And there is too much stigma and misunderstanding around mental health.

I also visited Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital, where Solomon and some of the others are now living. Solomon immediately recognized me and smiled. "Now I'm free," he told me.

The head of Ghana's Mental Health Authority announced that as of October 10, World Mental Health Day, the country's ban on shackling – in place since 2012 – will finally be properly enforced. While progress at Nyankusami is important, it's just one of many camps where people with mental health conditions are shackled. Much more needs to be done. We and other groups are now urging the government to invest in community mental health services, so other families won't resort to chaining their loved ones.

People like Solomon are counting on it.

MORE LATEST NEWS
ALL STORIES

Sudan: Justice Needed for Protester Killings

Monday 18 November 2019

Length 01:11

1 0 0 0 0 0
Lebanon: Defamation Laws Used to Silence Critics

Friday 15 November 2019

Length 02:34

2 0 0 0 0 0
Algeria: Escalating Repression of Protesters

Thursday 14 November 2019

Length 01:41

1 0 0 0 0 0
Iraq: Teargas Cartridges Killing Protesters

Tuesday 12 November 2019

Length 00:48

1 0 0 0 0 0
UAE: Political Detainees Languish Behind Bars

Tuesday 12 November 2019

Length 00:59

1 0 0 0 0 0
Croatia Slams Door on Migrants

Friday 08 November 2019

Length 03:36

2 0 0 0 0 0
Saudi Arabia: Change Comes with Punishing Cost

Monday 04 November 2019

Length 01:03

2 0 0 0 0 0
Iran: Sanctions Threatening Health

Tuesday 29 October 2019

Length 01:18

2 0 0 0 0 0
#MeToo Movement’s Second Anniversary

Monday 14 October 2019

Length 02:40

1 0 0 0 0 0
Brussels: Innovative Mental Health Support

Thursday 10 October 2019

Length 03:25

3 0 0 0 0 0
Afghanistan: Little Help for Conflict-Linked Trauma

Monday 07 October 2019

Length 01:18

1 0 0 9 0 0
Guinea: A Decade Later, No Justice for Massacre

Wednesday 25 September 2019

Length 02:32

2 0 0 0 0 0
World Leaders: Stand for Democracy and Human Rights at UNGA

Tuesday 24 September 2019

Length 00:26

1 0 0 0 0 0
Indonesia: Indigenous Peoples Losing Their Forests

Sunday 22 September 2019

Length 05:02

3 0 12 0 0 0
Tajikistan: Barriers to Aid for Domestic Violence Victims

Thursday 19 September 2019

Length 04:59

3 0 0 7 0 0
Brazil: Criminal Networks Target Rainforest Defenders

Tuesday 17 September 2019

Length 07:04

3 0 6 0 0 0
Nigeria: Military Holding Children as Boko Haram Suspects

Tuesday 10 September 2019

Length 01:37

2 0 0 3 0 0