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Between Chains and Vagrancy: Living with Mental Illness in Kintampo, Ghana

READ, UM; (2012) Between Chains and Vagrancy: Living with Mental Illness in Kintampo, Ghana. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London).

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Abstract

This thesis describes the family experience of mental illness in Kintampo, Ghana. Beginning from the history of colonial and anthropological speculations on mental illness and the dangers of acculturation in Africa, it provides an ethnographically informed analysis to assumptions regarding the value of the extended family and the village environment to recovery from mental illness in low-income settings. The thesis explores mental illness as primarily a social experience, bordered on one side by a complete social undoing embodied in the national stereotype of the homeless mad vagrant, and on the other by the chains and shackles which form the extreme materialisation of attempts to maintain a mentally ill relative within the family unit. It demonstrates how families seek to nurture the person’s endangered humanity against the popular view of the madman as a ‘spoiled’ or ‘useless’ human being through the process of day-to-day care and a prolonged and costly search for healing. The psychiatric hospital is a popular resource for treatment, and often the first rather than the last port of call, as health workers fear. However given the limited efficacy of psychiatric treatment, families frequently turn or return to traditional and Christian healers in the hope of an ultimate cure. Despite the promises of such healers, treatment is often unsuccessful in the long term and material and social resources can be depleted. The thesis concludes by considering the implications for the future of mental health care in Ghana given the limitations of all forms of treatment and the ongoing predicament of families living with mental illness. I argue for an approach which draws not on a reductive version of biomedical psychiatry to treat individual pathology, but which reinvigorates the postcolonial vision of a socially embedded psychiatry which may be of value not only in Africa but also elsewhere.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:Between Chains and Vagrancy: Living with Mental Illness in Kintampo, Ghana
Language:English
UCL classification:UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences > Anthropology

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