Views Of Psychopathology In African Culture

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In the African culture it is believed that a disease affects an individual because of the following reasons. Firstly, there may be a disturbance in the social relations between the ill person and his/her family members. Secondly, the ill individual is possessed by a spirit. Once an individual is possessed by an ancestral spirit, the individual may start experiencing symptoms similar to that of anorexia nervosa, due to their extreme loss of appetite. Lastly, he/she may be afflicted by God, usually for not doing as God would like. Once, an individual becomes ill it is expected that he/she should visit a healer to help them change their behaviour in order to please the spiritual realm and regain protection from god and the ancestors.

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Traditional healers are known as individuals who are chosen by their ancestors and given special powers to perform healing and communicate with their ancestors. To become a traditional healer one is spoken to by their ancestors, this is often seen by Western cultures as hallucination and a probable sign of schizophrenia. However, within an African group of individuals retrieving communication from the spiritual realm is considered normal. Traditional African’s would first go to a traditional healer, before coming to see a psychologist about their pathologies. Further, traditional healers may acknowledge western diagnosis yet they will treat using: herbal medicine, fortune telling, exorcisms and rituals, as it is believed that the route of the problem is spiritually bound and not physical. Healers also regularly visit and encourage their patients to stay at home for up to a year and a half.

In all African cultures there is a belief of witchcraft. Each African culture has a different name for it but the consensus is that a sorcerer/witch will create medicine/poison, that when taken causes mental or physical illness. Witches often pick victims because they are jealous of their possessions or successes in life. It was further found that, in Westernised hospital facilities for the mentally ill, patients comes to terms with the cultural reasoning that caused them illness. The patients who have accepted the responsibility for their “problem” then are better able to manage their mental illness. Further, due to the African culture’s strong perception of a family system, in which all people are viewed as family, Africans often treat the health care professional with care. Psychologists and psychiatrists, working with individuals who have a traditional viewpoint, often make the effort to understand the culture of those they are working with. Further, many professionals who treat traditional practicing, African patients, use an integrative approach inline with the bio-psycho-social model as the patient’s social component is an important part of understanding who they are. On many occasions an African patient will visit a psychologist as well as a traditional healer.

However, stigmatisation over mental illness is problematic even in traditional African cultures. Often individuals with mental illness are afraid to admit they are experiencing any form of mental illness. An African that admits to having a mental illness is viewed as weak or may be discriminated against for having a disorder. Often, African’s with mental health problems do not seek help or treatment for their problems but turn to substance abuse or crime instead.

15 July 2020

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