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Friday, May 6, 2011

Taboo Subject in Africa, Mental Illness

Africa mental illness

What is Africa's mental health impact of displacement, war, sexual violence and rape, famine, and disaster in Africa? Mental illness and mental health problems are taboo subjects that leaves people stigmatized in much of Africa. Mental health issues often come last on the list of priorities. 


Most developing countries dedicate less than 2 percent of governmental healthcare budgets to mental health care. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 56 percent of African countries have community-based mental health facilities, 37 percent have mental health facilities for children and 15 percent for the elderly.

Mental illness is a taboo subject that is stigmatized in much of
Africa but people in Africa don’t suffer any less because they are African and believe mental illness is caused by the wrath of God, witchcraft, or possessed by spirits. We don’t often think about the long-term mental health impact of the issues that they are living through such as conflict, homeliness, famine, drug use and disaster.

Mental illness is a taboo subject that is stigmatized in much of Africa
WHO's Chain Free Initiative  
Former child soldiers in Africa did not go back to being happy school children when the conflict ended, however when the peace agreements were signed people went about their daily lives as if it was over. Most developing countries dedicate less than 2% of government health budgets to mental health care. Mental health issues are usually given very low priority in health service policies and services that are funded are poorly staffed. Mental health issues often come last on the list of priorities for policy-makers. Where mortality is still mostly the result of infectious diseases and malnutrition, the morbidity and disablement due to mental illness receive very little attention from the government.  

In parts of Africa, people’s attitudes towards mental illness are still strongly influenced by traditional beliefs. These beliefs are sometimes so prevalent it affects the policy funding of mental healthcare services. In Uganda, "Locally people say Mulalu, which literally means you're mad, you're useless" says Jimmy Odoki, who also has bipolar disorder. "Where I come from people say 'that one he's a walking dead'." according to the BBC. This belief system often leads to unhelpful or health-damaging responses to mental illness, and to stigmatization of the mentally ill. Young girls and women that are from families that are known to have a history of mental illness marriage prospects are severely limited. Fear means people with mental illnesses and their family can end up being abandoned by society.

In some regions of Africa the solution for caring for the mentally ill is to shackle the person by the ankle and hide them away for years. At home people with mental illness are commonly chained by their parents or other relatives to control the mentally ill person. WHO’s chain-free initiative evolved in response to an urgent need to provide training and support for hospital reform, improve domestic conditions for people with mental illness, develop community programs, raise mental health awareness throughout Africa, and ensure the basic rights of the mentally ill. Many volunteer organizations provide temporary psychological care to the vulnerable citizens of Africa in humanitarian emergencies however; appropriate government funding of mental health programs is needed for a long-term solution to mental healthcare in Africa.

The African Mental Health Foundation (AMHF) was established in 2004 by Professor David M. Ndetei, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Nairobi. AMHF was created in the response to national tragedies such as the school fire tragedy in 2002 in which 67 school children were burnt to death. Members of AMHF saw a great need provide mental health services to survivors and victims’ families. Conflict situations also fuel sexual violence and rape which require specialized psychological care which are urgently needed in some parts of Africa. Governmental and non-governmental agencies must work together to ensure a comprehensive approach towards a solution to suitable mental healthcare in Africa.

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