"I want the one that will heal me completely so it won't come back again": the limits of antipsychotic medication in rural Ghana

Transcult Psychiatry. 2012 Jul;49(3-4):438-60. doi: 10.1177/1363461512447070. Epub 2012 Jun 21.


Campaigns to scale up mental health services in low-income countries emphasise the need to improve access to psychotropic medication as part of effective treatment yet there is little acknowledgement of the limitations of psychotropic drugs as perceived by those who use them. This paper considers responses to treatment with antipsychotics by people with mental illness and their families in rural Ghana, drawing on an anthropological study of family experiences and help seeking for mental illness. Despite a perception among health workers that there was little popular awareness of biomedical treatment for mental disorders, psychiatric services had been used by almost all informants. However, in many cases antipsychotic treatment had been discontinued, even where it had been recognised to have beneficial effects such as controlling aggression or inducing sleep. Unpleasant side effects such as feelings of weakness and prolonged drowsiness conflicted with notions of health as strength and were seen to reduce the ability to work. The reduction of perceptual experiences such as visions was less valued than a return to social functioning. The failure of antipsychotics to achieve a permanent cure also cast doubt on their efficacy and strengthened suspicions of a spiritual illness which would resist medical treatment. These findings suggest that efforts to improve the treatment of mental disorders in low-income countries should take into account the limitations of antipsychotic drugs for those who use them and consider how local resources and concepts of recovery can be used to maximise treatment and support families.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antipsychotic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Ghana
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medication Adherence / ethnology
  • Medication Adherence / psychology
  • Patient Preference / ethnology*
  • Patient Preference / psychology
  • Patient Satisfaction / ethnology
  • Psychotic Disorders* / drug therapy
  • Psychotic Disorders* / ethnology


  • Antipsychotic Agents