Time to de-criminalise suicides – Pantang Psychiatrist urges change

Dr. Kwadwo Marfo Obeng

Psychiatrist Dr. Kwadwo Marfo Obeng says the law criminalising suicide is a senseless law since suicidal persons lack the mental capacity bother about laws and criminal prosecutions.

He said not only is suicide a crime but even helping one to commit the act can itself be a criminal offence.

According to the Criminal Offences Act – 1960 (ACT 29) Section – 57 – Abetment of Suicide. Attempted Suicide;

(1) Whoever abets the commission of suicide by any person shall whether or not the suicide be actually committed, be guilty of first degree felony.

(2) Whoever attempts to commit suicide shall be guilty of a misdemeanour.

 The Pantang psychiatrist said this provision endangers even professionals like him when trying to treat a suicidal person.

‘It is not helpful” he stressed and wondered how anyone suffering from a mental condition and attempting to take his life would stop because it is illegal.

An upsurge in suspected cases of suicide has triggered a national conversation on the world’s 13th leading cause of death.

Two university students, allegedly took their lives in the past month while a 16-year-old Junior High School student also committed suicide in her mother’s kitchen.

There have been two more reports of suicide committed at Achimota and Ashaiman in Accra.

Suicide is linked to mental healthcare which stakeholders say it not taken seriously in Ghana.  

Psychologists say effective care of the mentally ill in Ghana is shackled by a dire lack of funding from the state.

Psychiatrist Dr. Kwadwo Marfo Obeng and head of the department of Psychiatry at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital  Dr. Gordon Donnir have noted that mental healthcare is free in Ghana but it is not cheap.

Dr. Marfo Obeng explained it can cost GHC1,200 to admit a patient for a month at Pantang Hospital.

The experts lamented that the state’s response to the treatment of the mentally ill has been poor.

Government is yet to put a dime in the Mental Health Authority created by Act 846 to finance mental healthcare.

After Parliament passed the Mental Health Act, 2012 (Act 846) and government named a Board in 2013, it has gone to sleep when it came to funding the operations of the Authority.

According to Dr. Obeng, it is the Danish government through its agency, DFID, that has been stepping up to treat Ghana’s mentally ill citizens.

“We have gotten no money to keep the place running,” Dr. Kwadwo Marfo Obeng lamented about conditions at the Pantang Psychiatric hospital.

Both experts called on the government to find a way to partner the private sector to develop funding options for mental healthcare.

But they admit that for private sector players like Insurance companies, covering mental healthcare is often prohibitive because it is deemed a business risk to cover mental health conditions.