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African Health Sciences

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The prevalence and severity of mental illnesses handled by traditional healers in two districts in Uganda

C Abbo, S Ekblad, P Waako, E Okello, S Musisi

Abstract


Background: Little is known about the prevalence and severity of DSM-IV mental disorders treated by traditional healers in Uganda.
Objective: To describe the prevalence and severity of DSM-IV disorders handled by traditional healers in Jinja and Iganga districts, Eastern Uganda.
Method: Between January and March 2008, Face-to-Face Interviews were conducted with 400 patients attending traditional healers’ shrines for mental health problems, using Self Rating Questionnaire 25 (SRQ-25) for screening, the Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview (MINI-Plus) for specific DSM-IV diagnosis and the Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) for severity of illness. Descriptive data analysis and frequency estimates were performed using SPSS version 15.0 for Windows. Pearson’s chi–
square tests and odds ratios were used to explore the relationship between severity and combined use of biomedical services and
traditional healing.
Results: Of 387 respondents, 60.2% had diagnosable current mental illness and 16.3% had had one disorder in their lifetime. Of the diagnosable current mental illnesses, 29.7% were Psychosis; 5.4% Major depressive episode; 5.6% Anxiety disorders; 3.6% mixed
Anxiety-Depression; and 3.9% Suicidality. In terms of severity, 37.7% of the current mental illnesses were severe, 35.1% moderate and 13.2% mild. Patients with moderate to severe symptoms were more likely to use both biomedical services and traditional healers.
Conclusion: These findings suggest that a considerable number of patients with DSM-IV diagnosable mental disorders attend traditional healing shrines; the majority had moderate to severe symptoms. Mental health professionals therefore need to come up with ways to co-operate with traditional healers, e.g. as officially designated Traditional Mental Attendants (TMA), for the benefit of their patients.

African Health Sciences 2009; 9(S2): 16-22




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