‘Arrest families who abandon their mentally ill relatives’

Government has been urged to trigger the immediate enforcement of sections of the Mental Health Act that criminalises families who abandon their mentally ill relatives as the country strives to contain the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Additionally, it has been implored to ensure that the various Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) take responsibility of the mentally challenged within their jurisdiction to rid them off public places in accordance with the law as part of measures to control the pandemic.

Acting Clinical Coordinator of the Accra Psychiatric Hospital (APH), Nana Yaa Brown said these in an interview with the Ghanaian Times yesterday, following the hospital’s confirmation of its first positive COVID-19 case, last Thursday.

Ghana’s Mental Health Act 846 of 2012, among others, pushes for the introduction of sanctions for the offences of neglect or discrimination against persons with mental disorder to promote the rights and quality treatment of patients, whilst stipulating changes to the organisation, provision and funding of mental health services in the country.

Dr Brown who insisted on the need for a rethink in strategies outlined to contain the pandemic to include the mentally challenged maintained that, “if we are to win this fight, people with mental illness are the ones to make or unmake us.”

“These people on our streets are coming from families and assembly areas and we must make the law that criminalises families who do that, work. If there is a mentally ill person walking on the street, it is the responsibility of the assembly to liaise with social welfare to take the person to a mental health facility for treatment, and we need to find ways to sustain treatment for them, so they are not left on the hospitals to pay.

“The behaviour of these people is already affected. It may be difficult for them to maintain social distance, wear masks or even practise hand washing, so if we do not factor them into plans, that may be a recipe for doom,” she said.

Touching on measures taken by the hospital to contain outbreak of new cases, the psychiatrist indicated that, aside enhanced screening and strict observation of all preventive protocols, APH had restricted in-ward movements to only designated staff and two relatives of a patient as admissions had been cut down to only extreme cases.

“We are doing longer reviews now, so we give medications that can last a month or two and also; plans are advanced to introduce telephone consultations soon to complement our dedicated lines in attending to patients,” she said.

Dr Brown, in expressing concern over the decline in staff strength as about 35 of the hospital’s workforce are currently under quarantine, appealed for more personal protective equipment to aid operations adding that, “this is the time we should all be interested in mental health, we cannot divorce it from what is happening.”

She advised the public against “living like normal” because the lockdown in some areas had been lifted, saying, “People must continue to stay home, if they have nothing to do in town.”

“Let us stop stigmatising people who test positive for COVID-19, because this is a disease that can happen to anybody. Because of the stigma, people are now lying about their personal information and this could be dangerous as most are asymptomatic.

“Being diagnosed of COVID-19 is not a death sentence, and in case you are anxious and need someone to talk to, we are always available to assist you. Let us collectively come on board to fight this pandemic,” she said.

It will be recalled that the Mental Health Authority (MHA), earlier this year, had estimated about 20,000 persons suffering mental illness roaming various streets and public places across the country.

Out of the number, about 2,000 of such victims can be found in Accra and Tema both major cities in the Greater Accra Region.

BY ABIGAIL ANNOH

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