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Research Students - Social Anthropology  

Year of start: 2006
Subject: Medical Anthropology

Research Topic/ Provisional Dissertation Title

Between chains and vagrancy: Living with mental illness in Kintampo Ghana


Roland Littlewood
Barrie Sharpe


I developed an interest in transcultural issues in the experience of mental illness and its treatment through working as an occupational therapist in mental health services in London. For my thesis I studied the experiences of people with madness/psychosis and their families in a rural multi-ethnic town in Ghana. Through ethnographic research with families at home and at ‘traditional’ shrines and healing churches I explored the impact of mental illness on everyday life, such as relationships, work and household economy, as well as the process and outcome of treatment from psychiatric services and traditional, Muslim and Christian healers. My findings challenged both idealised assumptions of the value of extended families and rural life for those with mental illness in Africa and stereotypes of extreme stigma and social exclusion. Severe mental illness took a heavy toll on family life and aspirations and many went to desperate lengths to seek healing among a variety of biomedical and spiritual practitioners often to no avail. My study warns against a simplistic promotion of biomedical psychiatry as a panacea for these challenges and suggests a closer attention to the family experience of living with mental illness to develop interventions which are responsive to their needs.

Research interests

  • Transcultural psychiatry
  • Africa and the diaspora
  • Religion and ritual
  • Anthropological approaches to disability

Academic Background/Education

PhD Anthropology (awaiting examination) University College London
MRes Anthropology (Distinction)
(2006) University College London
MSc Medical Anthropology
(Distinction) (2005) University College London
Post-graduate Diploma in Occupational Therapy
(1999) St. Bartholomew’s and the Royal London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary and Westfield College
BA (Hons) English 2(i)
(1989) The University of Leicester


· Read UM (forthcoming) “I want the one that will heal me completely so it won’t come back again”: The limits of antipsychotic medication in rural Ghana Transcultural Psychiatry

· Read UM (forthcoming) Madness and miracles: Hoping for healing in rural Ghana In Cosmos, Gods and Madmen in the Anthropology of Medicine Littlewood, R and Napier, D eds. Walnut Creek, Left Coast Press

· Read, UM, Doku, VCK (forthcoming) Mental health research in Ghana: A literature review Ghana Medical Journal

· Read UM, Doku, VCK and de-Graft Aikins, A (forthcoming) Schizophrenia and psychosis in West Africa from the colonial era to the present. In Kleinman, A, Hill, A and Akyeampong, E eds. Culture, Mental Illness and Psychiatric Practice in Africa, Indianopolis, Indiana University Press

· Doku, V., Ofori-Atta, A., Akpalu, B., Osei, A., Read, U., Cooper, S. and the MHaPP Research Programme Consortium 2011. Stakeholders' perceptions of the main challenges facing Ghana's mental health care system: A qualitative analysis. International Journal of Culture and Mental Health 4:8-22.

· Awenva D, Read UM, Ofori-Attah AL, Doku, VCK, Akpalu B, Osei AO, Flisher AJ and the MHaPP Research Programme Consortium (2010) From mental health policy development in Ghana to implementation: What are the barriers? African Journal of Psychiatry 13:184-191

· Ofori-Attah AL, Read UM, Lund C and the MHaPP Research Programme Consortium (2010) A situation analysis of mental health services and legislation in Ghana: Challenges for transformation African Journal of Psychiatry 13:99-108

· Read UM, Adiibokah, E and Nyame S (2009) Local suffering and the global discourse of mental health and human rights: An ethnographic study of responses to mental illness in rural Ghana Globalization and Health 5:13


Economic and Social Research Council

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