DIALOGUES ON MENTAL HEALTH IN GHANA
An art exhibition curated by Ama de-Graft Aikins and Bernard Akoi-Jackson
We often take our mental health for granted. It is only when dealing with the stresses and strains of life that we realise how important it is for our overall wellbeing. Worldwide, an estimated 25 per cent of people are likely to experience serious mental health disorders such as depression, substance abuse disorders, psychosis and schizophrenia.
How does this translate in Ghana? An exhibition, curated by Ama de-Graft Aikins and Bernard Akoi-Jackson in 2009 in Accra, Out of Your Mind: Dialogues on Mental Health explored this topic.
Content of the exhibition
- paintings and drawings produced through a collaboration between visual artist, Bernard Akoi-Jackson and patients at Pantang Psychiatric Hospital between 2003 and 2008.
- photographs of the mental illness experience taken by artists Rikki Wemega-Kwawu, Bernard Akoi-Jackson and anthropologist Ursula Read.
Aims of the exhibition
- To stimulate discussion about attitudes and perceptions in mental health through art, in particular highlighting the difference between mental health and mental illness, and
- To examine how creative arts can help in mental illness prevention, treatment and rehabilitation in Ghana.
Ghana has its fair share of mental health illnesses.
- Three per cent of Ghanaians live with severe mental health illnesses such schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and dementia.
- 15 per cent suffer from common mental health disorders like depression, anxiety and psychological distress.
For these individuals, life is far from easy.
Insights from the exhibition
What comes to your mind when you think of mental health or mental illness? Unease? Fear? Pity? Horror? Ambiguity? Distancing?
Kofi Setordji, Wiz Kudowor and Amenyo Dzikuku-Bansah among others explore these mix of emotions in their paintings below through the use of abstract imagery and contrasting bold colours.
With only three psychiatric hospitals in Ghana (and all located in the south of the country), families often look after their mentally ill loved ones at home.
Although five regional hospitals around the country host psychiatric units, these are understaffed and underfunded. As a result, families look to alternative sources of care for their loved ones. These include religion-based practices such as prayer camps and traditional shrines, which are clinically problematic. These are some of the stories captured on film by anthropologist Ursula Read as we see below.
On the streets
Not all mentally ill are cared for in a hospital or at home. Some have no choice but to live on the street. In recent years, there has been much talk in the Ghanaian media about the increasing number of homeless mentally ill men and women. Some sections of the media have raised concerns about the danger of those who roam the streets with potentially lethal tools such as pieces of metals and sticks. However, others fill their time more creatively as the photos by Rikki Wemega-Kwawu and Bernard Akoi-Jackson show.
But what do these photos tell us about these men, their past and their state of mind? Given the order and symmetry in their works, we can assume that they connect to important events and concerns in their past.
Mentally ill patients in Ghana’s three southern-based psychiatric hospitals have their own challenges. They are treated in overcrowded, underfunded and under-resourced hospitals. Some end up staying in hospital for years and even decades.
What is this experience like? Eight patients worked with Bernard Akoi-Jackson in 2004 and 2008 to produce sketches, paintings, texts, clay objects, baskets and other art forms detailing their experience.
What stories do these pictures tell?
- Some capture the emotions of their past, present or an imagined future.
- Others describe their identities such as who they were before they became ill, who they are in relation of others or who they hope to become after they recover.