Close to 3 million Ghanaians live with mental disabilities and 600,000 of them have very severe mental conditions, estimates from the World Health Organisation have shown.
A recent report by the Human Rights Watch, a world's leading independent organisation dedicated to defending and protecting human rights, found filthy conditions in wards of psychiatric institutions with worse cases in spiritual healing centres, commonly called "prayer camps".
The country's three public psychiatric hospitals in Accra, Pantang, and Ankaful altogether have about 1,000 people with mental disabilities. In Accra, the psychiatric hospital is said to be severely overcrowded with many inmates spending all day outside the hospital.
HRW's 84-page report shows how thousands of people with mental disabilities were forced to live in these institutions often against their will.
Medi Ssengooba, Finberg Fellow at Human Rights Watch, said in some of the spiritual healing centres, people with mental disabilities were often chained to trees in baking sun, and forced to fast for weeks as part of a "healing process," while being denied access to medication.
The report, titled: "Like a Death Sentence: Abuses against Persons with Mental Disabilities in Ghana", highlights the challenges of people with mental disabilities, who lived in the community, faced stigma and discrimination and often lack adequate shelter, food and healthcare.
At the prayer camps, the people with mental disabilities do not receive any medical treatment.
In some areas, medical treatment is even prohibited when prescribed by a doctor because the heads of camps who are mainly "prophets" seek to "cure" residents through miracles, and consultation with "angels".
The healing processes at the camps includes asking people with mental disabilities, including children under age 10, to fast for weeks.
Ssengooba said the government had done little to combat such abuse or to ensure that these people could live in the community.
"The government needs to take immediate steps to end abuses against people with mental disabilities in institutions, prayer camps and the community," he said.
Ssengooba called on the government to ensure people were not forcefully detained in these facilities or in psychiatric hospitals and that they had access to mechanisms to challenge any violations of their rights.
Ghana has ratified the Disability Right Convention and Ssengooba said it was time to see some real changes to the policy for people with mental disabilities.
Ssengooba said government should create community-based support services, including housing and healthcare that enable people with mental disabilities to live in the community.
The report interviewed more than 170 people with mental disabilities in the three public psychiatric hospitals, and in eight prayer camps and the community.
Family members, healthcare providers, administrators and staff of prayer camps, government officials, and staff members of both local and international organizations working in Ghana were also sampled.
Ghana ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in July 2012.
Under this convention, countries must undertake steps to ensure that people with mental disabilities can make important life decisions for themselves, including choosing their place of residence and with whom they live, and that they are not forced to live in institutions.
In June 2012 Ghana enacted Mental Health Act which creates a system for people with disabilities to challenge their detention in psychiatric hospitals.
But the law does not apply to prayer camps, leaving residents without legal remedies to seek release.