n Africa Journal of Nursing and Midwifery - The phenomenon of mass psychogenic illness among the Basotho in Lesotho : proposed guidelines for improving the management of psychogenic illness episodes

Volume 17, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1682-5055


The phenomenon of mass psychogenic illness, also known as mass hysteria, is not well documented in Lesotho. Media reports often create chaos in Lesotho's communities by providing diverse explanations of psychogenic illness based on cultural beliefs. Community leaders, school teachers, nurses and clinicians often struggle to manage psychogenic illness due to inadequate knowledge of the condition. This study explored the phenomenon of psychogenic illness among school children in Lesotho and strategies that are used by traditional healers,religious leaders, teachers, nurses and clinicians to manage psychogenic illness with the goal of proposing guidelines that may facilitate better management of mass psychogenic illness outbreaks in this population. The phenomenon of psychogenic illness was explored among school children based on individual interviews and focus groups of purposively sampled traditional healers and religious leaders as well as those affected by psychogenic illness, teachers and parents in high schools with recent outbreaks of psychogenic illness. The data were transcribed and analysed using open and axial coding. Four out of the ten districts of Lesotho were covered. The themes that emerged included manifestations of psychogenic illness, interventions for alleviation of psychogenic illness, Basotho's views about psychogenic illness and the effects of psychogenic illness. Basotho have diverse views about the psychogenic illness phenomenon. Interventions used by Basotho include traditional healing, herbal remedies, exorcism and prayer. Psychogenic illness episodes are contagious and have predictable physical and psychological symptoms that need to be managed by people who are informed about the condition and the cultural context of the Basotho. Guidelines presented in this paper may assist community leaders, school teachers, nurses and clinicians to improve the management of psychogenic illness episodes.

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