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Mental Health Defined Africentrically

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The worldview of mental health is primarily rooted in Anglo-European societies dating back to the nineteenth century. The African view of mental health covers beliefs from all of the following areas:

  • Ancestors
  • Witchcraft
  • Folk belief
  • Incorporating some modern medical science

African patients do not believe in the concept of ‘curing’ the mental illness the brain, but instead, the philosophy indicates that mental illness should be acknowledged, observed and understood. African psychiatry as it relates to mental health is defined in a foundation referred to as ‘Ubuntu’ that includes three pillars including the following:

  1. Culture
  2. Harmony
  3. Communalism

The concept of ‘Ubuntu’ indicates sensitivity to the needs and wants of others while sharing and also being sympathetic, caring, considerate, patient and kind. In treating a mental health patient, an African therapist will likely conclude that any mental health challenges are a direct result of a manifestation of a conflict between the patient and probably another individual whether that person is alive or deceased. Additionally, the patient could be struggling with a spirit and any non-material forces that tend to exist within society at large. There are communities of individuals that play a key role in an African patient’s mental health and patients who are admitted for treatment must be accompanied by a pre-determined number of close relatives as a rule of thumb. ‘Ubuntu’ states that the community must participate in the healing of a mental health patient and this belief is held on to tightly as it gives Africans an understanding of themselves in relation to the world.

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