Abstract BA Dissertation – Mental diseases in Northern Nigeria

Mental diseases in Africa are seen in a different way than in the Western World, there are often misconceptions and the way of treating them is coming from the West with psychiatric hospitals. In this ISP I want to study the impact of colonisation & globalisation on the way to perceive what can be considered as a mental disease and how people tend to treat them. Also, it will be interesting to see how the visions have been entangled through the time as some regions such as Northern Nigeria still hold a strong cultural influence while dealing with methods originally implemented by the West. For this ISP, the focus on the Hausa people in Northern Nigeria can be a very interesting intake as there is a predominance of the culture & religion as well as implementation of the West in the way of dealing with mental diseases with the mental institution in Kano (Asma’u Shaheedah, 2015). This choice was made because of the possibility to reference from literature. However as the mental health sector in Africa is hidden I may use other examples of mental institutions – among different cultures – such as the one in Accra as it is much more documented.

As for the definition of a mental disease I want to compare definitions from the West and the vision that the Hausa mythology and culture are conveying as mythology is a way to set the norms among people from the specific culture.

I will also tackle the idea that the notion of ‘mental disease’ itself may something imported in Africa – more specifically in Northern Nigeria. It may be more regarded as a question of ‘normality’ or ‘abnormality’ and thus a categorisation that may be different than the one from the West, which has been pushed onto various cultures across the continent.

Moreover, the ‘cultural’ way of dealing with ‘mental diseases’ is different as the perception also differs and may be more ‘religious/cultural’ than what is called ‘scientific’. Then, it is also interesting to ask how this ‘scientific’ approach from the West has influenced people and their way of understanding ‘mental diseases’ to then treat it in psychiatric hospitals. The importance given to mental health compared to physical health in Africa seems to be lessen due to the fact that patients in psychiatric hospitals are treated in ways that are worse than in prisons. Another question that rises from this is about the efficiency of the methods of the West. Some believe that psychiatry can be universal however the same way of using psychiatry cannot be applied to every single culture. Even though the human brain has a similar structure, the development of each of its parts varies according to many different factors (culture, environment, focus, learning, the form of education received etc.). All this then sets the abilities and inabilities of the individual. The culture also implies different forms of thoughts through the mythology & language used, thus leading to the emergence of what is called ‘ethno-psychiatry’.

  • Culture, health and illness; Cecil G. Helman, 1944
  • Hausa medicine : illness and well-being in a West African culture; Wall L. Lewis; 1950
  • https://ezibota.com/on-mental-health-an-african-myth/ ; Asma’u Shaheedah, 2015
  • Magana Hausa : Hausa stories and fables; 1906
  • Hausa tales and traditions / compiled by Frank Edgar ; translated and edited by Neil Skinner. 1; Edgar F. 1969
  • The African mind in health and disease : a study in ethnopsychiatry; Carothers, John Collins, 1953
  • Black skin, white coats : Nigerian psychiatrists, decolonization, and the globalization of psychiatry / Matthew M. Heaton, 2013





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