Mental illness in low-resource settings: ‘Nkabom: A little medicine, a little prayer’

Picture from the film ‘Nkabom: A little medicine, a little prayer’
Patient in chains. Picture from the film.

Ghana has long been the focus of international concerns regarding the human rights of people with mental illness who are commonly chained by traditional and faith-based healers. ‘Nkabom: A little medicine, a little prayer’ is an ethnographic documentary filmed in 2019 in rural villages and market towns in the central belt of Ghana. Nkabom in the Akan Twi language can be translated as ‘unity’ or ‘togetherness’. 

Meet the director Erminia Colucci for a Q&A after the film. The event is open to everyone interested.

NB: You can also participate in a seminar by Erminia Colucci on Friday 30 September 10.00-12.00 called 'Participatory visual methods in Cultural and Global Mental Health'. Read more about the seminar here.

Read Erminia Colucci's bio here.

Film synopsis

A mother is caring for her son at a healing shrine on the edge of a village in the central belt of Ghana. In another village, a father has taken his son to several Christian and traditional healers as well as a psychiatric hospital. Both are driven by the need to find a cure for the mental illness which has afflicted their children. Meanwhile mental health nurses in Ghana are looking for ways to join together with healers in their communities. They know these healers are popular and respect their beliefs, but they are concerned that some use chains to restrain their patients. How can they work together with healers without threatening their reputation and livelihoods? And how can nurses offer treatment without access to medication and transport? This film provides an insight into how healers and health practitioners come together in the face of these challenges to reach the same goal of healing and recovery.

Director: Erminia Colucci
Director of photography: Erminia Colucci
Editors: Anthony Comber-Badu and Nadia Astari
Production: Middlesex University
80 minutes
Year: 2021
Language: Twi and English with English subtitles.

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The film is an outcome of the Together for Mental Health Project - an interdisciplinary applied research project using collaborative visual research methods to understand experiences of mental illness, coercion and restraint in Ghana and Indonesia. 

About Together for Mental Health Project 

Both Ghana and Indonesia have passed laws banning the use of physical restraints on people with mental health problems, however coercive practices remain commonplace and mental health workers face resource challenges in carrying out community-based interventions (see Breaking the Chains for a previous related research in Indonesia). In addition, despite increased availability of mental health services, in both contexts ritual and spiritual practices remain highly valued in addressing mental illness. The aim of the project is to use ethnographic film and participatory methods to explore attempts by mental health workers to establish collaborations with faith-based and traditional healers to prevent the use of coercion and provide care for persons affected by mental illness. Although there have been long-standing calls for such collaboration there has been little investigation of how such relationships would work in practice in specific locations with differing healing traditions and mental health systems. The use of participatory visual methods aims to engage stakeholders, particularly persons with lived experience of mental illness, across differing socio-economic backgrounds, educational achievements and languages, to develop, create (including filming, directing and editing) and disseminate their own stories. The project will build a south-to-south network to share experiences and examples of best practice to reduce the use of coercion and restraint and improve access to care for people with mental illness.