Praying for a Cure: Mental health in Ghana

Image: Robin Hammond

Mental health is a largely neglected issue on Africa’s health and development policy agenda.

This trend is often compounded by several factors: underestimation of the extent of mental health problems, a large treatment gap, stigma against those living with mental illness, and mistaken beliefs that mental illnesses cannot be treated.

It is estimated that around 90%of the people who suffer from mental illnessin sub-Saharan Africado not have easy access to the mental health care they need.As a result, they are denied access to life changing treatment.

Low-income countries allocate less than 0.5 % of their health expenditure to mental health, compared to over 5 % for high-income countries, meaning that mental health care providers in these countries lack the money they need to buy needed medications and to train an adequate number of caregivers.

The stigma tied to mental health conditions is also an obstacle to people seeking care. In sub-Saharan Africa, the stigmatisation of people with mental health conditions is deeply rooted in cultural beliefs and associations that some communities make between mental disorders and witchcraft, where theirbehaviour is considered a sign of demon possession or evil spirits.

Freelance photographer Robin Hammond has put a human face to the challenges faced by people with mental health conditions in Africa. In his award-winning photo book Condemned, he documents the absence of mental health care in African countries. His photographs show the terrible conditions in which the seriously mentally ill must survive, and the absence of help or infrastructure to address their needs.

The image here was taken by Robin Hammond in Ghana. His image shows a young man, twenty-five-year-old Odeneho Samson, who is restrained by the leg at a prayer centre and being prayed over to remove the spirits believed to be causing his mental illness.

You can read more about the challenges facing people with mental health conditions in Ghana in Brian Goldstone’s article ‘A Prayer’s Chance’: