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Mental Health in Haiti

by Angela Griffe

As part of the Wednesday at the Center series, the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies welcomed Dr. Bonnie Kaiser to speak about the importance of integrating local culture and language to improve mental health care in Haiti.

The John Hope Franklin Center and the Global Mental Health Initiative at Duke Global Health Institute hosted the packed event which focused on what the field of anthropology can contribute to global health research. Kaiser focused on the importance of accepting local cultural models of mental illness in relation to communication and measurement, care-seeking behavior, and understanding misfortune.

Kaiser advocated for researchers and mental health professionals to utilize local “idioms of distress,” such as reflechi tròp, or “thinking too much” rather than biomedical terms. Integrating these idioms into mental health screenings makes for more accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Dr. Kaiser in the front of a room

Dr. Kaiser field questions from the crowd. photo by Angela Griffe

Kaiser also stressed the importance of Vodou priests and the Catholic Church as common sources of care and treatment. Many Haitians believe mental illness is the result of “sent spirits,” and as such, turn to religion rather than medical care.

Mental health care is “too focused on singular clinical settings,” Kaiser concluded, and professionals and researchers need to focus more on how social inequality and structural violence affect the way mental illness should be viewed and treated.

 

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