Sun, May

Mental Health in Ghana; The Parable of The Good Samaritan. Image credit - Samaritas

Thoughts From Afar
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Whilst at it, he solicited the help of other drivers, all of whom drove past. Amongst them was one in a shirt marked with the inscription, “Greater Works,” he drove past too, and so did a police vehicle.

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.”

The above is an extract from the parable of the Good Samaritan. It demonstrates the innate humane instinct that seems to have lost its value in today’s society especially when it comes to mental health. Figures indicate that with a population of approximately 29 million people, about 870,000 suffer from a severe mental disorder with a further 2.8 million suffering from a moderate to mild mental disorder. Sadly only 2% are properly catered for with a treatment gap of 98%. Shocking as the statistics may seem, using the accepted number that at each point in a society’s life 1 in 4 of the citizenry will have a mental health issue, there seems to be considerable under-reporting of approximately 3.5 million cases.

With this in mind and the huge societal stigmatisation of mental health, it will be expected that issues in this area of health should not surprise many but to the contrary, I was shocked yesterday when I read on social media about the sad manner in which a roaming mentally challenged man lost his life. Apparently, he had been run over by a hit and run vehicle on the streets of Accra.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, he had been left in the middle of that street whilst vehicles drove past in oblivion. Eventually, a Good Samaritan (Carl Engmann) arrived who stopped and began attending to the badly injured victim assisted by his niece.

Whilst at it, he solicited the help of other drivers, all of whom drove past. Amongst them was one in a shirt marked with the inscription, “Greater Works,” he drove past too, and so did a police vehicle. The police were contacted only to indicate that they had an earlier call which gave the impression that the man was lifeless. As a result, they didn’t respond promptly, neither did the National ambulance service. Whilst Carl was attending to him, he breathed his last and died.

Many will be familiar with similar stories across the country and some of the excuses that were given, amongst which was that “it was a sign of bad luck to assist a dying mental patient.” Much as these misplaced oral traditional sayings are engrained in our society, I cannot help but ask if we would appreciate being treated this way were we in a situation of bother?  Even more perplexing is the fact that the driver who ran the man over drove off. Is it not a crime to depart the scene of an accident? Is it not true that the driver is a suspect in a potential homicide or manslaughter with diminished responsibility case? What of those who saw the accident (crime) and failed to report? Are they not complicit too?

Then there is the issue of those who drove past, especially the policeman, are there no duty of care provisions in this country? Even if they aren’t, what happened to our human sense of compassion and care, have we lost that too?  Surely, we cannot be behaving like humans from Mars in the twenty-first century where mental health is openly spoken about and accepted as just another chronic disease.

I agree, there is a lot to be said about the poor resourcing of Ghana Mental Health Authority. In fact, this situation has been highlighted consistently by its Chief Executive with him indicating sometime in 2017 that the three mental hospitals in Ghana had no budgetary allocation in 2016. Using this case as a test, can it not be said that the leaders we elect go into public office with these traditional misconceptions about mental health and therefore don’t even see this funding gap as a problem?

Let’s look at this view from Martin Luther King Jr. “On the parable of the Good Samaritan: “I imagine that the first question the priest and Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But by the very nature of his concern, the Good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

We need to become contrarian and reverse the misconceptions we have grown up to accept as the norm. We need to change our default to assisting all humans and not to be inward looking. We cannot claim to be a lower middle-income country touting our credentials all be it mediocre and be this shambolic towards mental health. I have this view because due to increased urbanisation and the associated accentuating of the pressures of life, all forms of mental health diseases are on the ascendancy nationally too. At a workshop in February this year on “how to manage persons living with mental illness,” Dr James Duah, Deputy Executive Director of the Christian Health Association of Ghana (CHAG) indicated that “recent data from the Ghana Health Service had revealed that about 41% of Ghanaians have some psychological disorder. Further, 32.4% lived with a mental disease.”

For me, this is the surest indication of the hypocrisy that was on display by passers-by whilst the victim passed away. If we are to believe the laws of probability and normal distribution, then a considerable number of these drivers had mental health issues too. However, either due to it being undiagnosed or diagnosed but kept a secret to avoid stigmatisation or because the belonged to the fortunate 2% and were on medication, they found it acceptable to discriminate and show the highest level of man’s inhumanity to man. They were prepared to go with warped traditions and the poor mundane behaviour of the majority, rather than adopt the contrarian posturing of the likes of Carl, challenging the status quo in their wake and help save the dying man.

Yes, they were just being Ghanaian, for that is what we do best. Often in our endeavours, we fail to ask the alternative question, we fail to challenge our internal demons and persist in oblivion, going with the phrase, “this is how we do it.” Though our ways of doing things often send us into retrogression and make us worse off than those who lived in the Stone Age and who were at the mercies of the laws of natural selection.

I shudder to think that some of those who failed to assist and who may be complicit in crime will be in church as I type giving thanks and praises to the most high.

However, they will be in denial that they never lived to the true meaning of the parable of the Good Samaritan. In fact, some may swear blindly till the cocks’ crow that the mental illness was the result of demonic possession and not a result of a medical imbalance. To those, I will leave this quote from Molly Friedenfeld, “a Spiritual Samaritan lives knowing that if we were to leave this world tomorrow, we were the best humans we could be and we touched the lives of as many souls as possible. We are not asked to be perfect. We are asked to make a difference.”

Be the difference and learn to be human again, it’s not too late.

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