Monday, February 24, 2014


“The way language is used to conceptualise mental illness is essential to its understanding and treatment. In Lesotho, there is no Sesotho (the local language) equivalent for the English term “counselling”. Instead, a discussion among local health workers leads to a range of alternative expressions, from “Ho tastaisa motho fihela qeto” (to guide someone to reach a conclusion), “Ho thusa motho ho hlokomela” (to assist a person to realise his problem, to solve it and accept it), and “Ho tsehetsa motho” (to support). A study in Uganda sets out to assess levels of depression in a community, only to realise the term “depression” is not culturally appropriate. The terms Yo‘kwekyawa - hating oneself - and Okwekubagiza - pitying oneself - are used instead.
A lack of mental health policy, as well as social stigma, has meant that in much of Africa mental illness is a hidden issue. Without developing a language to discuss the problem, avenues to treatment and understanding of the phenomena in an African context remain seriously under-addressed.”

The problem is well stated.  There might not be an immediate action that would solve this very complicated issue, but a beginning could be made if churches and other nonprofit organizations working in Africa would take the problem on with the seriousness they have taken on other issues.

First, any organization with a primary care clinic should be offering mental health services integrated into their system of care.  These services should be informed by the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Also, going to the top of the list should be the knowledge of persons with lived experience and it goes without saying the services should always take into account the culture and beliefs of the people in the region in which the services are being offered.

Second, Christian faith communities should take on the task they were given by the Person they say they are following.  They need to embrace both suffering people and their families.  Materials are plentiful in America telling faith communities how to do this job, but I have found no materials culturally sensitive to any African nation or groups of African people.  For example, I have found nothing that would be suitable to help a congregation or pastor in Zimbabwe with embracing a person who had a psychiatric label and their family members.

Maybe it is time that the movement of persons with lived experience here in the United Sates started to look at what it could do to help the people already working on these issues on the continent of Africa.  MindFreedom Ghana is but one I can name.  The point is we need to take seriously the lack of attention this issue gets on the continent of Africa and how that contributes to severe human rights abuses and unnecessary suffering.  That should concern us all.

© Ed Cooper, February 24, 2014, Stoney Creek, Tennessee
    All Rights Reserved

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