The Culture of Mental Illness and Psychiatric Practice in Africa

The Culture of Mental Illness and Psychiatric Practice in Africa

The Culture of Mental Illness and Psychiatric Practice in Africa

The Culture of Mental Illness and Psychiatric Practice in Africa

Synopsis

In many African countries, mental health issues, including the burden of serious mental illness and trauma, have not been adequately addressed. These essays shed light on the treatment of common and chronic mental disorders, including mental illness and treatment in the current climate of economic and political instability, access to health care, access to medicines, and the impact of HIV-AIDS and other chronic illness on mental health. While problems are rampant and carry real and devastating consequences, this volume promotes an understanding of the African mental health landscape in service of reform.

Excerpt

Emmanuel Akyeampong, Allan G. Hill, and Arthur Kleinman

This volume originated in a working group at Harvard University on “Health, Healing and Ritual Practice,” which was part of an interdisciplinary and interschool research project of the Committee on African Studies called the “Africa Initiative.” the working group’s members were scholars with training in public health, demography, medical science, anthropology, linguistics, ethnomusicology, and history, and their deliberations on health and healing brought to light revealing interdisciplinary perspectives. John Mugane, the linguist, was interested in medical diagnosis in African languages. Kay Shelemay, the ethnomusicologist, had worked for many years on Ethiopian church music and its interface with healing. the demographer, Allan Hill, was part of a multiyear research project on women’s health in urban Africa. Wafaie Fawzi, the epidemiologist, worked on HIV/AIDS. Majid Ezzati, a public health expert on environmental health, had worked in East and West Africa, examining different kinds of domestic fuels used for cooking and their impact on health and the environment. Emmanuel Akyeampong, the historian, had worked on the history of addiction and on disease and urbanization in West Africa. Arthur Kleinman, a psychiatrist and medical anthropologist, has published extensively on mental illness and psychiatry in non-Western contexts, with a particular focus on China. Akyeampong and Kleinman jointly offered a course on “Violence, Substances, and Mental Illness: African Perspectives,” in the fall of 2006 (and again in 2011), and the working group hosted a workshop on psychiatry in Africa in December 2006. the interest that this generated encouraged the editors to compile a select number of papers in what, we hope, is a coherent volume.

This volume thus emerged out of conversations between a psychiatrist and nonpsychiatrists about the history, culture, and practice of psychiatry in Africa.

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