How are mental disorders seen and where is help sought in a rural Ethiopian community? A key informant study in Butajira, Ethiopia

A Alem, L Jacobsson, M Araya, D Kebede, G Kullgren
Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica. Supplementum 1999, 397: 40-7
One hundred key informants were interviewed about their awareness, attitudes and practices regarding mental illness using the Key Informant Questionnaire developed by WHO. Case vignettes of seven common neuropsychiatric disorders were presented to the key informants. Informants' awareness about these disorders and help-seeking practices for mental and physical symptoms or conditions were assessed. An additional question on the prototype symptoms of mental disorders was also posed. Among the presented seven conditions, epilepsy was perceived as the most common condition and major depression was regarded as the least common one. Schizophrenia was judged as the most severe problem, and mental retardation was considered the second most severe condition. Talkativeness, aggression and strange behaviour were the most frequently perceived prototype symptoms of mental illness. Traditional treatment methods were preferred more often for treating symptoms of mental disorders and modern medicine was preferred more often for treating physical diseases or symptoms. Findings of this study are similar to other studies conducted in socio-culturally different communities. Working in close connection with traditional healers would give the primary health care worker a better opportunity to gain acceptance from the community and modify certain harmful practices.

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