This article assesses the critical situation of inhumane and degrading treatment in the mental healthcare practice through a review of the interaction between the right to health and the right to be free from exploitation, violence and abuse. The article reflects on the domestication of articles 5 and 16 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the status of exploitation, violence and abuse in conventional and traditional mental healthcare in Ghana. Since the enactment of the Ghanaian new and progressive mental health law in 2012, specific measures have been put in place to advance the protection of persons within the mental healthcare setting: mental healthcare workers, including traditional and faith-based practitioners, have been trained on human rights; guidelines have been published; and programmes such as the QualityRights initiative have been launched. A normative analysis, combined with literature review, interviews and field visits, help to uncover barriers impeding implementation of the law and reveal gaps that remain, which automatically leaves room for exploitation, violence and abuse. The paradigm shift from a rather paternalistic approach in mental healthcare to one that promotes and respects autonomy and dignity is slow. There is still much to be desired. This article argues that there is a need to reassess or further define domestic legal provisions allowing for involuntary treatment and restraints, establish a stronger human rights oversight body, strengthen cooperation between the formal and informal mental healthcare providers, and create a legal forum where persons whose rights have been infringed can seek redress. Ultimately, these advancements could ensure that the provided right, namely to be free from exploitation, violence and abuse in mental healthcare, translates into actual change.
- mental health, right to health, freedom from exploitation, violence and abuse, freedom from inhumane treatment, Mental Health Act, Ghana