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Northwestern University

Publication Date

Fall 2008

Program Name

Uganda: Development Studies


Human experience is constantly mediated by culture. Many new studies have shown the significant role of culture in mental health, mental illness, and mental illness treatment. This project seeks to identify some of the cultural determinants of mental illness treatment in Uganda. Specifically, it has studied the role of family members in a mentally ill patient’s healing process. This study was conducted through semi-structured personal interviews with individuals from three subject groups. Group 1 consisted of mental health professional Group 2 members of organizations offering mental health services, and Group 3 the caretakers of mentally ill persons. All participants consented to an interview and to be included in the results of the study. The study found that, in Uganda, family members and close friends often assume the role of caretaker for the ill. This is no different for patients with a mental illness. It is often a relative who brings the patient in for treatment in the first place. In many mental health clinics, family members or close friends, known as attendants, stay with the patient for the entire duration of his or her admission. In places where this is not permitted, the doctors urge family members to visit the patient as often as possible. Before a patient is discharged, family members are given explicit instructions about the patient’s medication, possible side effects, and how to care for them at home. There are also some new attempts at utilizing family members to fight the stigma of mental illness. Unfortunately this is the ideal, which is not always met. Family members and informal caregivers can sometimes neglect or even aggravate the patient. This often occurs because of stigma, a misunderstanding of mental health, or economic stress. Mental health workers and mental health service providers have made some attempts at assisting caregivers. There are still however, necessary services that are not being provided, and areas of the country that are neglected.


Mental and Social Health


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