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The Role of Traditional and Faith Healers in Mental Health Care: A Meta Synthesis of Case Reports from sub-Saharan Africa

conference contribution
posted on 2023-05-24, 13:04 authored by Sherphard Chidarikire, Harris, DM, Skinner, IK

BACKGROUND: Mental health disorders, including schizophrenia, are a growing concern for governments around the world. Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is a region ravaged by corruption, malnutrition, poverty, hunger, diseases such as HIV/AIDS, unemployment, and conflict and human rights abuses. In a region where resources for mental health services are few or non-existent, the people experiencing mental health issues have poor access to treatment. For instance, Zimbabwe a country of 13 million people, has seven psychiatrists. Consequently, people experiencing distress consult traditional healers first for assistance.

METHODS: A meta-synthesis of 12 case studies was conducted and synthesised using Flyvbjerg’s strategies. The inclusion criteria were primary studies of adults in SSA diagnosed with schizophrenia. Five databases were systematically searched.

RESULTS: The synthesis revealed four themes including the role of traditional healers in mental health care; access to treatments; the role of families in influencing help-seeking behaviour; and perceived source of psychotic behaviour. Examples of cases included a visit to n’angas (traditional healers) by a Zimbabwean man with Capgras syndrome, and an extreme case of body dysmorphic disorder in a Nigerian man at a traditional dentist.

DISCUSSION: This meta-synthesis provided a useful explanatory framework for the influence of social context, help-seeking behaviour and health outcomes in SSA. There is a paucity of qualitative research that considers the role and integration of traditional medicine within mainstream mental health systems.

CONCLUSION: This study revealed that further ethnographic studies are necessary to illuminate the role of culture in the lived experience of people with schizophrenia in SSA.


Publication title

International Journal of Mental Health Nursing




Brenda Happell






School of Nursing


Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Asia

Place of publication


Event title

Australian College of Mental Health Nurses 40th International Mental Health Nursing Conference – Honouring the Past, Shaping the Future

Event Venue

Melbourne, Australia

Date of Event (Start Date)


Date of Event (End Date)


Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Mental health services

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