Human Rights Watch

Protecting the rights of persons with mental disabilities

2012 - 2012

As is the case in several other countries in the region, mentally ill individuals in Ghana face severe human rights abuses. They are often sent to so-called spiritual healing centres, or “prayer camps”, whose self-proclaimed prophets keep them chained to trees while their families pray to cast out evil spirits. Private psychiatric hospitals are available, but can only treat about 100 inpatients at a time and are too expensive for most Ghanaians. Lack of public mental health services, combined with superstitions and negative attitudes towards mental illness, make it particularly difficult to integrate those suffering from mental disorders into community life.

This project investigated and reported publicly on violations in psychiatric institutions and prayer camps, preparing a multimedia feature and publishing “Like a Death Sentence”, which recommended better conditions in psychiatric hospitals and prayer camps, the development of voluntary, community-based mental health services, and full compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which Ghana ratified in July 2012. Under the Convention, countries enable people with psycho-social disabilities to make important life decisions for themselves, including where they live and with whom.

After the report went public, some 30 people attended a workshop that included BasicNeeds Ghana, Mental Health Society of Ghana, Ghana Mental Health Association, Mindfreedom Ghana, Inclusion Ghana, Ghana Federation of the Disabled, and the Pentecostal Council of Ghana.

Using the momentum created by the report’s release, HRW launched an advocacy campaign to press the government of Ghana to abide by its obligations under the CRPD and to implement the Mental Health Act in ways that protect the psycho-socially disabled.

Project highlights

Activities and beneficiaries


local disabilities and human rights organizations involved/interviewed


hospitals involved


people interviewed


advocacy campaign launched


prayers camps involved/visited