Explanatory Models and Mental Health Treatment: Is Vodou an Obstacle to Psychiatric Treatment in Rural Haiti?

Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA, USA.
Culture Medicine and Psychiatry (Impact Factor: 1.29). 04/2012; 36(3):514-34. DOI: 10.1007/s11013-012-9270-2
Source: PubMed


Vodou as an explanatory framework for illness has been considered an impediment to biomedical psychiatric treatment in rural Haiti by some scholars and Haitian professionals. According to this perspective, attribution of mental illness to supernatural possession drives individuals to seek care from houngan-s (Vodou priests) and other folk practitioners, rather than physicians, psychologists, or psychiatrists. This study investigates whether explanatory models of mental illness invoking supernatural causation result in care-seeking from folk practitioners and resistance to biomedical treatment. The study comprised 31 semi-structured interviews with community leaders, traditional healers, religious leaders, and biomedical providers, 10 focus group discussions with community members, community health workers, health promoters, community leaders, and church members; and four in-depth case studies of individuals exhibiting mental illness symptoms conducted in Haiti's Central Plateau. Respondents invoked multiple explanatory models for mental illness and expressed willingness to receive treatment from both traditional and biomedical practitioners. Folk practitioners expressed a desire to collaborate with biomedical providers and often referred patients to hospitals. At the same time, respondents perceived the biomedical system as largely ineffective for treating mental health problems. Explanatory models rooted in Vodou ethnopsychology were not primary barriers to pursuing psychiatric treatment. Rather, structural factors including scarcity of treatment resources and lack of psychiatric training among health practitioners created the greatest impediments to biomedical care for mental health concerns in rural Haiti.

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    • "Additionally, strengthening existing forms of community support in migrant communities and following principles of the apprenticeship model to train CHWs and lay providers can help reduce harmful effects of discrimination and stigma (Murray et al. 2011). Based on findings in Haiti (Wagenaar et al. 2013; Khoury et al. 2012), community-based support in Haitian migrant communities likely includes nonbiomedical care providers, such as Christian pastors and traditional healers, including Vodou priests and herbalists. Support networks in migrant communities are underexplored and deserve more inquiry. "
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    ABSTRACT: Objective: Many Haitian migrants live and work as undocumented laborers in the Dominican Republic. This study examines the legacy of anti-Haitian discrimination in the Dominican Republic and association of discrimination with mental health among Haitian migrants. Design: This study used mixed methods to generate hypotheses for associations between discrimination and mental health of Haitian migrants in the Dominican Republic. In-depth interviews were conducted with 21 Haitian and 18 Dominican community members and clinicians. One hundred and twenty-seven Haitian migrants participated in a pilot cross-sectional community survey. Instruments included culturally adapted Kreyòl versions of the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) and Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI) and a locally developed function impairment scale. Results: Haitian migrants described humiliation (imilyasyon) as a reason for mental distress and barrier to health care. Dominicans reported that discrimination (discriminación) was not a current social problem and attributed negative social interactions to sociocultural, behavioral, and biological differences between Dominicans and Haitians. These qualitative findings were supported in the quantitative analyses. Perceived discrimination was significantly associated with depression severity and functional impairment. Perceived mistreatment by Dominicans was associated with a 6.6-point increase in BDI score (90% confidence interval [CI]: 3.29, 9.9). Knowing someone who was interrogated or deported was associated with a 3.4-point increase in BAI score (90% CI: 0.22, 6.64). Conclusion: Both qualitative and quantitative methods suggest that perceived discrimination and the experience of humiliation contribute to Haitian migrant mental ill-health and limit access to health care. Future research should evaluate these associations and identify intervention pathways for both improved treatment access and reduction of discrimination-related health risk factors.
    Ethnicity and Health 04/2014; 20(3):1-22. DOI:10.1080/13557858.2014.907389 · 1.67 Impact Factor
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    • "According to locally preferred terminology (Kaiser et al., in press), suicide was described as mwen ta touye tèt mwen (to kill myself) and ideation as panse sou touye tèt (thinking about killing oneself). See Kaiser et al. (in press), Keys et al. (2012), and Khoury et al. (2012) for additional information on participant observation, qualitative interviews, and Kreyòl terminology. "
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    ABSTRACT: Suicide is a complex global public health problem, yet few studies have examined local socio-cultural explanatory models and other contextual factors surrounding suicide in low-and-middle-income countries. Such research is critical, as suicide frequency and etiology, as well as care-seeking in the case of distress, differ contextually and by sub-groups within a population. This is the first study of its kind to explore the dual perspectives of both healthcare workers and community members regarding suicide in Haiti. We conducted semi-structured, in-depth interviews between May and June 2011 with eight biomedical healthcare workers and 16 lay community members. Qualitative data analysis, drawing on interpretive phenomenological analysis, addressed themes including perceived suicide frequency, veracity of suicidal ideation claims, perceived causal factors, religious constructs related to suicide, and support resources for suicidality. Compared to community members, healthcare workers underestimated the frequency of suicide and were less likely to interpret suicide-related claims as representing true intent. Religious perspectives influenced attitudes toward suicide, albeit in different ways: Christian concern with the afterlife resulted in suicide being unacceptable and sinful, while Vodou explanatory frameworks displaced blame and stigma away from suicidal individuals. Healthcare workers' failure to recognize suicide as a serious problem suggests that the formal health system is currently ill-equipped to respond to suicide-related needs. Religious practice and community supports in rural Haiti may serve as essential resources for prevention programs.
    Social Science [?] Medicine 04/2013; 83:61-9. DOI:10.1016/j.socscimed.2013.01.032 · 2.89 Impact Factor
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    • "Our conclusions are similar to those of a recent study showing that rural Haitians in areas affected by an earthquake do not seek mental health treatment within the formal health sector as this option is not readily available, and not because they do not wish to try it [47]. Moreover, the evidence for the effectiveness of psychiatric interventions for the management of severe mental disorders, such as psychotic syndromes, is relatively strong [48]. "
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    ABSTRACT: Background Concepts of ‘what constitutes mental illness’, the presumed aetiology and preferred treatment options, vary considerably from one cultural context to another. Knowledge and understanding of these local conceptualisations is essential to inform public mental health programming and policy. Methods Participants from four locations in Burundi, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, were invited to describe ‘problems they knew of that related to thinking, feeling and behaviour?’ Data were collected over 31 focus groups discussions (251 participants) and key informant interviews with traditional healers and health workers. Results While remarkable similarities occurred across all settings, there were also striking differences. In all areas, participants were able to describe localized syndromes characterized by severe behavioural and cognitive disturbances with considerable resemblance to psychotic disorders. Additionally, respondents throughout all settings described local syndromes that included sadness and social withdrawal as core features. These syndromes had some similarities with nonpsychotic mental disorders, such as major depression or anxiety disorders, but also differed significantly. Aetiological concepts varied a great deal within each setting, and attributed causes varied from supernatural to psychosocial and natural. Local syndromes resembling psychotic disorders were seen as an abnormality in need of treatment, although people did not really know where to go. Local syndromes resembling nonpsychotic mental disorders were not regarded as a ‘medical’ disorder, and were therefore also not seen as a condition for which help should be sought within the biomedical health-care system. Rather, such conditions were expected to improve through social and emotional support from relatives, traditional healers and community members. Conclusions Local conceptualizations have significant implications for the planning of mental-health interventions in resource-poor settings recovering from conflict. Treatment options for people suffering from severe mental disorders should be made available to people, preferably within general health care facilities. For people suffering from local syndromes characterized by loss or sadness, the primary aim for public mental health interventions would be to empower existing social support systems already in place at local levels, and to strengthen social cohesion and self-help within communities.
    Conflict and Health 02/2013; 7(1):3. DOI:10.1186/1752-1505-7-3
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