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Monday, December 24, 2018

Mental Illness in Africa Taboos

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Mental Illness in Africa Taboos

Mental illness and mental health are widely neglected on African health and development policies.





Article Topics
depression in Africa, mental illness in African culture, chain mentally ill

Africa is ripe with war, sexual violence and rape, famine, displacement, and natural and manmade disaster but the epidemic of mental illness and mental health problems are taboo subjects that leave people stigmatized in much of Africa. The epidemic of mental illness and mental health issues in Africa often come last on the list of national and local importance.


Banksy Follow Your Dreams, Cancelled
Banksy Follow Your Dreams

Depression is not an illness?


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.

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. 


Superstition accused of mental health diseases

Rusty chain


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 the 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 areas of Africa, the solution for caring for the mentally ill is to chain mentally ill people by the ankle and hide them away. At home, people with mental illness are commonly chained by their parents or other relatives to control the mentally ill person. Many volunteer organizations provide only temporary psychological care to the vulnerable citizens of Africa in humanitarian emergencies.

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 is 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 Mental health is neglected on Africa's health and development policy agenda.

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