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Study recommends harmonization of mental health treatments

Stakeholders in the mental health sub-sector have been encouraged to intensify discussions to agree on the urgent need for harmonized treatment approaches in Mental Health conditions.

The recommendation is intended to among other things bridge the mental health treatment gap between the traditional and scientific ways of handling mental illness.

“What is required is for more dialogue and open discussions on how treatment approaches or methods can be fine-tuned to make it more traditionally scientific and modern to accommodate scientific diagnosis, treatment, and reviews. The human rights perspectives of treatment are crucial to ensure the right of people with mental health conditions is respected, protected, and always promoted during treatment.”

The above were key conclusions and recommendations made in a research commissioned by the Mental Health Society of Ghana(MEHSOG) in Collaboration with the Ghana Federation of Traditional Medicines(GHAFTRAM) and supported by Open Society for West Africa (OSIWA).

The study:, dubbed, ‘Research on Orthodox and Non-Orthodox Mental Health Treatment Methods in Ghana,’ was undertaken in the 16 Administrative Regions of the country and aimed at improving access to mental health treatment through fostering collaboration between Orthodox and Non-orthodox treatment approaches in Ghana.

Disseminating the research findings in Accra on Tuesday, Mr. Evans Oheneba Mensah, one of the researchers stated that the study has brought to the fore the treatment gap in mental health care and the need for specific and well-targeted partnerships between the Ministry of Health and the GHAFTRAM to bridge the mental health treatment gap.

Mr Mensah explained that the terms of reference of the study were to assess public perception of mentally ill people, to find out the treatment methods of GHAFTRAM members, and to ascertain the human rights perspectives of different treatment methods among GHAFTRAM members to ensure their treatment practices recognize the rights of persons with mental disability.

According to him, both the people with Mental Health conditions and the GHAFTRAM members in the study areas demonstrated appreciably high awareness concerning mental illness, the findings showed that there was no common understanding of what constituted mental illness,

He said, “ Of the sixteen 16 GHAFTRAM member practitioners interviewed, 95% expressed awareness and a uniform understanding of what, for them, constituted mental illness: they indicated that mental illness was “sickness” which could be treated or handled like any other ailments. However, one member (5%) perceived mental illness as spiritually induced or related.

“ Those who saw mental illness as sickness described the condition variously; some said it was ‘sickness of the brain’, a ‘general sickness’ or ‘sickness’ which affects one’s mental wellness.”

 On the treatment of Mental Health Conditions, the researcher indicated that there was a divergence of views on the treatment protocols. That, according to him depended on whether it is prayer camp, herbalist, mallams, and others.

 He stated that the choice of treatment approach depended on the specific cultural and spiritual appreciation or interpretation of the conditions of a user.

He said, “It was revealed that some GHAFTRAM members relied on herbs, while others applied spiritual psychics in the provision of treatment services. It is evident that the differences in perception and descriptions among GHAFTRAM respondents influence the approaches they adopt in managing or treating mental illness. These approaches range from prayers, intercessions and in some cases the use of “science” as part of the process to diagnose the condition.”

 He indicated that a prayer camp leader explained during the research that the difference in their approach or treatment method is directly informed by the understanding of what mental illness means from the point of view of the practice, calling, and beliefs of the particular (GHAFTRAM) member.

Regarding treatment standards and Protocols in the healing Centres, it was gathered from the field that the religious rituals and practices employed by faith and traditional healing service practitioners vary slightly depending on the service provider, such as faith-based healers or traditional and herbal practitioners.

“For instance, the Faith-based healing approach uses fasting (abstinence from certain or all food and drink for a defined period), prayers, anointing oils, or holy water to support the healing processes. while traditional healing practitioners rely on spiritual actions which are performed by both users and their families, supplemented by herbal remedies.”

On Collaboration with Hospitals and other Health Institutions, Mr Mensah pointed out that the GHAFRAM members who responded to the issue of collaboration said that they worked with the formal mental health institutions to which they make referrals. A Traditional Healer who was interviewed in Ho said: “Yes, we collaborate; over here, we have a relationship with the psychiatric wing of Trafalgar (Ho Regional Hospital). It is within the context of this good relationship that we are able to make referrals to them and they also make some patients come to see us even if only occasionally.”

The Executive Secretary of MEHSOG, Mr Humphrey Kofie, noted that the research was to understand the perspective of those who attend the non-orthodox mental health facilities and to establish whether or not they go to those places based on their own initiative or they are coerced to go there.

Mr Kofie said it was also for the practitioners themselves to tell how they help those who have mental health challenges and what their approaches are in respect of the human rights of their patients.

“We needed to understand both the end user and the provider in the contest of the non-formal or unorthodox mental health approach,” he added.

According to him, the research brought a lot of revelations as it made them understand the role of the family members when it comes to them visiting some of these facilities to these facilities and the role of the caregivers of those who have mental health problems in attending some of these facilities.

Mr Kofie noted, “so the advocacy is that, much as we acknowledge the fact that there is a human right element to some extent in how the non-orthodox practitioners approach some of these things. Largely, we realized that their context of the definition of human rights is different from what we know. So it makes them feel that they are doing what they feel is right but the standard has to be set for them to appreciate how things should be done.

“So I think in future we should be looking at standardizing the approaches as prescribed by the Quality Rights international standards just like we have been using for the orthodox facilities,”Mr Kofie added. 

Participants acknowledged that there have been so many revelations in the research because it cuts across all the 16 regions of the country. They understood the perspective in the various areas and they also understood the things some of the practitioners do and their reasons for doing such things.  

By: Mohammed Suleman/Publicagendagh.com


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