>If you are reading this, then I put it to you that you are ignorant; that you have lack the ability to exhibit any signs of intelligence. Even worse, I think you’re incapable of emerging from your state of ignorance.
Good. What you have just experienced is an iota of the prejudice faced by Ghanaians struggling with mental illness.
Here in Ghana, we use the word ‘mad’ to describe anyone exhibiting any degree of mental illness, like we are qualified doctors prescribing some incurable disease we are all experts on. We extend the word to cover anyone who exhibits any sign of consistent irregular behaviour. If they are ‘lucky’, we treat them like outcasts. If that person is really unlucky though, they may find themselves in church with a pastor holding their their head, chanting “shabalababalalalaba” over them.
Very few of us have any real understanding of mental illness, how many different kinds of mental illnesses there are, whether any of its many forms can be cured and how to deal with it when we are confronted by it.
Georgina Pipson, the 33 year-old mother suspected to have poisoned her five children at Nyanoa in the Central Region, died in hospital this morning after having earlier tried to commit suicide.
Many people began judging this woman before her death with the same level of judgement they would apply to someone cold, calculating and in full possession of their mental faculties (PS: Lady Jaye has since corrected me here, reminding me that just because someone has a mental illness does not mean they are never lucid. See her comment).
Some will say Georgina got what she deserved, while others may say she should have stayed alive to face the criminal consequences of her alleged actions. What very few people will however wonder is what was the extent of her mental ailment and whether this dire tragedy could have been avoided by dealing with it effectively.
Think about it this way. If – with your full faculties – you have ever found it difficult to control your thoughts, words or emotions; buying something on impulse although it makes no sense, or falling in love with the wrong person even though you know they will hurt you, then imagine how hard it is for someone with a mental illness is to control their thoughts, words and emotions.
Murder is still not justified in such circumstances, but there is a reason why it is possible for people to make insanity or reduced capability pleas in a court defence. Why? Because it has implications for establishing mens rea and actus reas (intention and action), the two things that need to be established before someone can be found guilty for a crime.
Media reports suggest Georgina Pipson had been in and out of Kpantang and was receiving medical treatment for her condition. No one has said anything about exactly what her condition was, what the symptoms are of that condition (was it schizophrenia, for example?), whether she had made any progress, whether she was taking her medication and if not, why not.
If we fail to ask and demand answers to these questions, then we are setting the tone for this kind of tragedy to happen again and when it does, we will only have ourselves to blame.