UG IPO hosts Dr. Ursula Read at Seminar for Visiting Scholars
Rights as relationships: Negotiating human rights and moral complexity within community
mental health in Ghana
Chair: Dr Samuel Ntewusu, Institute of African Studies
Concerns regarding human rights abuses of people with mental illness by traditional and faith healers in Ghana have drawn much international attention in the last decade. Efforts to address these concerns include legislative reform and the expansion of community mental health care. Community mental health workers are encouraged to visit healers and prayer camps to establish collaborative relationships and promote humane alternatives to mechanical restraint. However such efforts at collaboration involve a careful negotiation of moral authority, and do not always result in the discontinuation of restraint and other forms of coercion. This seminar draws on ethnographic research with community mental health workers in Kintampo to explore the ways in which such collaborations play out in practice, and the forms of ethical, moral and theological reasoning through which mental health workers interrogate the tension between the perceived spiritual authority of healers and their professional duty of care. Such forms of ethical reflection problematize the secular vision of empowerment and disability rights as promoted within the Mental Health Act, recognizing that rights are embedded in relationships within which moral complexities around freedom, responsibility and obligation in the care of people with serious mental illness are negotiated and performed. Through such forms of engagement mental health workers seek to engender sentiments of reciprocity within a shared moral landscape and avoid rupturing relationships with healers and families whose support is crucial, particularly in the context of chronic resource constraints within public health and social welfare. The findings from this research raise questions as to how such collaborations might best work to prevent abuses such as prolonged chaining and enforced fasting, and at the same time provide much needed support to family carers and people with severe mental illness.
Dr Ursula Read is an anthropologist whose work explores the experiences of people with mental illness and their families and communities in Ghana, particularly in relation to moral and ethical dilemmas around care and consent, and treatment from traditional and faith healers and psychiatric services. Recently she has investigated the impact of global mental health networks and innovations in Ghana, particularly efforts to promote human rights and expand access to mental health care, and how these are experienced by people with mental illness, care-givers, healers, and health workers. Ursula is currently a research associate at Kings College London working with Dr Hanna Kienzler on a comparative ethnography as part of a Wellcome Trust collaborative grant ‘Mental Health and Justice’. In the context of the commitments of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, her new research will use participatory and ethnographic methods to investigate the barriers to and resources for community inclusion for people with mental illness in urban and rural settings in Ghana. Ursula is also working with the Division of Diabetes and Nutritional Sciences at KCL using social science methodologies to evaluate an MRC/ESRC/Wellcome/DFID-funded intervention exploring the potential of health advocates for health promotion in places of worship in the Caribbean. Ursula has a PhD in anthropology from University College London. She was previously a research fellow at the Centre de Recherche Médecine, Sciences, Santé, Santé Mentale et Société (CERMES3) in Paris, France and an MRC career development fellow at the University of Glasgow. Prior to her research career she worked as an occupational therapist in NHS mental health services in London.
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