Locking Up People with Mental Health: West Africa vs. Quebec

by lulumgomes on October 2, 2017 - 3:15am

Every country struggles to take care of people with mental health problems. Now, in West Africa in particular “mental health is an incredible neglected issue […] [because] there are so many competing priorities”. In this article written by Carey Benedict, on October 11th 2015, the lack of resources to treat mental illnesses is very clear. Families who do not know how to control a loved one with a mental disorder often bring their relative to “prayer camps”, without their consent, where they are chained to trees and their only remedy is prayer and traditional medicine (usually consists of roots and leaves crushed in water). These people can spend weeks, months or even years shackled to the same spot where they eat, sleep and defecate. This article by Victoria Fleischer denounces this kind of treatment through heartbreaking photographs.


Now, in this article posted in 2010 by CBC News, a patient decided to sue a psychiatric hospital in Quebec after being “placed in isolation for more than 1,200 hours over a three-month period”. According to the patient he was forced to urinate and defecate on the floor and he claims that he was also physically abused while in isolation.

Also, in this article by Chloé Fedio, posted September 27th, 2016, on CBC News, shows how isolating people with mental health issues can be dangerous. In fact, in Quebec, the number of times inmates were isolated went from fewer than 300 to 873 cases. A professor of criminology at l’Université de Saint-Boniface, Jean-Claude Bernehim, affirms that isolation can “have devastating psychological and physical effects on inmates”, that could even lead to suicide.


When comparing these two situations it is difficult to say that treatment in Quebec is much better than treatment in West Africa. It seems like the patients are receiving the same care but with a huge difference in budget, where the only difference is medication. People in Quebec, however, are able to speak up and condemn this horrible way of treating patients, whether that is through social media or contacting the authorities like the men in the article in CBC News did. In west Africa, mental health stigma is very dominant, therefore they do not have many options other than to admit their loved one to “prayer camps”.


Even if it is less obvious, Quebec does need to improve the way it handles people with mental health problems. Hopefully campaigns are taking place, in order to raise awareness for mental health and to battle its stigma, such as #BellLetsTalk.

As for West Africa, people are being chained to tree, because their families do not have other options. Hopefully, World Health Organization has intensified their focus on mental health, so to end the chaining of people with mental illnesses.


Treating mental health illnesses is not an easy thing to do, if it was, a good treatment would have already been put in place. There is a lot that still needs to be done, in order to improve the way mental health is handle, but hopefully some efforts are starting to be put in place.


Works cited:

Benedict, Carey. “The Chains of Mental Illness in West Africa.” The New York Times, 11 Oct. 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/12/health/the-chains-of-mental-illness-in-west-africa.html?_r=0.

Fleischer, Victoria. “Mentally Ill Shackled and Neglected in Africa’s Crisis Regions.” PBS Newshour, 10 July 2014, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/art/mentally-ill-shackled-and-neglected-in-africas-crisis-regions/.

“Patient Sues Quebec Psychiatric Hospital.” CBC News, 5 Nov. 2010, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/patient-sues-quebec-psychiatric-hospital-1.907531.

Fedio, Chloé. “Hull Jail’s policy to Isolate Inmates with Mental Health Issues Could Be ‘Catastrophic’.”  CBC News, 27 Sep. 2016, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/quebec-jail-solitary-confinement-mental-health-1.3780634.


PHOTO CREDITS: Joao Silva/The New York Times


This article was really well written and very interesting. It is true that the Québec mental health care system needs some improvement. Do you know that there are many organisms working with individuals who suffer from mental illnesses? For example, the Fondation Jeunes en Têtes wants to, “help, all around Québec, teenagers in distress or in the process of being (my translation).” They also, “support performing communal organisms which develop and put in place repairer and preventive programs for the well-being of young people and offer their prevention program, “Solidaires pour la santé mentale” in Québec high schools (my translation)” (http://www.fondationjeunesentete.org/fr/qui-sommes-nous ). In addition, they want to, “sensitize Québec’s population to the well-being and mental health of young adults (my translation).” Emerging from the union of two previously existing organisms, Fondation des Maladies Mentales and Fondation Québec Jeunes, this organism wishes to, “construct an innovative philanthropic path in order to maximize the social impact (my translation).” You might be interested in volunteering or working with this organism if the subject of mental health fascinates you. You can do so with this organism by either submitting your CV in spring in order to become a youth animator, working from Mai to July (http://www.fondationjeunesentete.org/fr/simpliquer ). You can also volunteer periodically, donate money to the foundation, organize an event or help in an already existing event the foundation organizes like the Valentine Day Ball, the Annual Golf Tournament, the Accroche-Coeur Gala, the activity Let’s Bond. All you have to do is contact Mélanie Boucher at (514) 529-1000 or send an email at mboucher@fondationjeunesentete.org.

About the author

I moved to Canada when I was nine years old, from Brazil. The differences between these two countries are very prominent, and I think that's one of the reasons why I'm so interested in learning new languages and learning about different cultures.