Saturday, June 27, 2009

Research in Ghana shows women who have been raped have 30% risk of developing a mental illness


Women who are raped or defiled during their childhood are reported to be at 30% risk of developing mental illness in future, than those who are never raped or defiled.

The Acting Chief Psychiatrist at the Accra Psychiatric Hospital (APH), Dr. Akwasi Osei who disclosed this stressed that cases of rape and defilement should not be trivialised but should be taken seriously.

Dr. Osei was speaking at a forum in Accra organised by Network for Women's Rights in Ghana (NETRIGHT) on Women's Rights and Mental Health. He spoke on the topic "Women and Mental Health in Ghana."

He noted that women generally have more health problems, worse physical and mental health than men, have less access to health care than men and yet live longer than men.

"Women predominate in some types of mental illnesses including depression of all types, postpartum depression exclusive women's disorder, panic disorders, phobias, suicide attempts, anxiety and generally, neurotic or minor mental illnesses."

For three consecutive years women topped OPD attendance at the APH. Out of a total of 40,654 in 2007, 22,430 were women as against 18,224 men.

In 2006, 23,334 women and 19,628 men out of 42,962 sought psychiatric care. The figure for 2005 was 44,211 with 23,692 women and 20,519 men.

According to the Chief Psychiatrist women are more vulnerable due to biological factors (though not significant), sexual abuse, economic inequities, hormonal factors as in menses, pregnancy, menopause and cultural factors.

"Some causes of mental illness in women in Ghana are marital problems, relationship problems - from boyfriend, childbirth, menopause, rape and defilement and drug abuse from pressure from boyfriend."

Sadly, when a woman gets mentally ill, she is branded a witch and left alone, or sent to prayer camp and forced to confess.

Dr. Osei lamented that even Ghana's psychiatric hospitals not baby-friendly.

"A nursing mother will have the baby separated because there is no facility to keep babies. While Accra Psych Hospital has a VIP ward for men, no such ward for women yet."

Also he said insanitary conditions are normally not good for the fragile women coupled congestion more like concentration camp.

Further, at the community level women with mental illness may suffer eviction by a landlord, have their employment terminated and sometimes drop out of school if schooling.

The current mental health law, NRCD 30 of 1972 offers no protection for people who get mentally ill.

Dr. Osei disclosed that a new law has been drafted to solve these problems. He said it will specifically make provisions for women and children as vulnerable groups, specifically criminalise stigma, discrimination and other human rights abuses and criminalises forced marriage, forced labour and sexual abuse at prayer camps.

"Other provisions in the law decriminalises suicide, ensures mentally ill can maintain their marriage, or at least will not be disadvantaged in marriage on grounds of mental illness and can exercise their franchise to vote if so determined by their attending psychiatrists."

He explained that the draft bill which has been at the Ministry of Health for the past three years will seek to overhaul mental health care, deemphasise institutionalisation and emphasise community care, decentralise mental health care and more importantly curtail abuse of human rights.

In his opinion, what is needed now is to create awareness and increase advocacy on the need to pass the new mental health law.

"Women, as the law stands, stand to benefit even more than men."