We had quite motley crew of family members and random tenants among the 54 of us, and there are definitely stories enough to fill a novel… maybe one day!
Today I remember Sistah Konadu. A sweet and well-meaning girl in her mid-twenties, with a large frame and a tiny voice, she wasn’t actually living full time with us, but apparently had problems with some other members of the family who lived elsewhere, and sought refuge with us many times.
Konadu was slightly ‘mad’ as the family affectionately described her. I found out later, mostly from observation, that she was clinically a schizophrenic. I imagine the medicines in Ghana are expensive or not available, had there even been a proper doctor to make such a diagnosis in the first place.
One afternoon as we sat in our little room, bathed in sweat, fanning ourselves, there came a big noise from the compound. A woman’s voice shouting frantically, “You! Think you can hide in a chicken disguise?! You are the devil! I see you! Evil chicken!” We peered through the dusty slat windows to see Konadu, dressed in her best cloth and jewelry to match, running in circles, chasing some benign neighborhood chickens with the fury of an exorcist. The children were running behind, jostling and poking each other, falling in tiny clumps of laughter. Some of the adults poked their heads out into the yard and called for Konadu’s mother to fetch her to the asylum. It seemed the illness had reached some sort of peak and she was dragged, warning us all of the dangers of the little devils among us, with the help of some strong guys around the area, into a taxi and off to what they called the Asylum. Sounded pretty scary to me. Little did I know.
Konadu disappeared for a few weeks. When she came back she was dull, thin, her skin grayish and the corners of her mouth sagged. She looked highly drugged. The fire in her eyes was gone.
What we didn’t know at the time was that she had been chained by her ankle to a large heavy metal ball on the floor in what constitutes a cell. Some patients are chained to car batteries or any other heavy unmoveable objects.
This is rehabilitation?! The conditions in Accra’s only Psychiatric Hospital – the Asylum – make the horrors at Korle Bu and others look like a hotel. There is even less funding for these hospitals around the country, not to mention a huge stigma. The patients are fittingly referred to as inmates and as I read in an article published on AllAfrica.com, the regional director of CHRI (Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative) explained:
“the treatment includes chaining, denial of food, verbal and physical abuse, isolation and forced medication. According to her, their research revealed that the incidence of chaining up the mentally disabled constituted a feature of the healing process.”
What is equally disturbing is what I read on the front page of the Daily Graphic (whose website is currently under construction), Ghana’s largest newspaper TODAY. Ghana’s ‘Mental Health in Crisis’. The article goes on to explain that for the 22 million people in Ghana, of whom they figure 30 -40 % will suffer some form of mental health problem during their lives, have 2 – that’s TWO qualified and practicing Psychiatric doctors to attend to them. Statistically that is one doctor per 11 million people. Do I need to write how dismal that is? Apparently there are actually 4 doctors in the country, but two are lecturing at Universities rather than practicing.
So what happens over at the Asylum to the thousands of ‘inmates’? No doubt they are guarded. Doubtfully they are fed, (unless family members come to visit and bring meals to them), but no chance are they being treated by a doctor. And that is sad.
I haven’t seen or heard from Konadu in ages. She had a baby and got married and was on her ‘medicines’ that last I knew. God forbid she relapse and need medical attention.
With all the hue and cry about the atrocities of slavery during the early colonial days, here we are in modern Africa, where citizens are being enslaved, in their minds and by the literal chains that bind them. The treatment of the mentally ill in Ghana is one of those dirty little societal secrets, on the bottom of anyone's list in terms of making changes, and in the dark ages in terms of cultural attitudes. God help them, those who cannot help themselves, for no one else will.