n African Journal for Physical Health Education, Recreation and Dance - Perceptions of indigenous people regarding mental illness at Cacadu District in the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa

Volume 21 Number 2.2
  • ISSN : 1117-4315


The aim of the study was to explore the perceptions of indigenous people and the role of Traditional Healers in the management of mental ill persons in Cacadu District, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. This qualitative, exploratory and descriptive study consisted of nine relatives of mental health care users and six traditional healers. Data were collected from two categories namely, relatives of the Mental Health Care Users (MHCUs) and the Traditional healers. An interview guide was used to conduct in-depth face to face interviews. Data were analysed using two techniques, namely coding and reflective remarks. Participants indicated negative impact of mental illness as a result they portrayed great desperation regarding means of accessing cure for mental illness. Some participants showed insufficient knowledge regarding mental illness and had vast perceptions and beliefs regarding the origin of mental illness. Some key findings was that mental illness resulted in tension amongst family members with sick individuals over demanding and exhibiting abusive type of communication which led to serious disharmony within the family structure. Most participants expressed the burden that the family experience during the period when its member is affected by mental illness with regard amount of resources and support that is needed for the mentally ill individual. Families not only provide material resources such as food, clothing, shelter, and money; they are also instrumental in assisting the mentally ill individual to access medical care and community resources. Some family members go to an extent of hiring health caregiver. The relatives do not open up to the health care team about visiting traditional healers. Some family members confirmed that it is not easy to accept mental illness like other common physical illnesses. Some of the causes mentioned by the indigenous people are witchcraft, jealousy, amafufunyana, ukuthwasa and ancestral anger. Indigenous people of Cacadu District view mental illness as spiritual origin but they include western medication for the benefit of the mentally ill. However, the relatives of the MHCUs emphasised economic burden as the major problem brought about as a result of mental illness. The families are not certain about how the admission procedure is conducted. They only phone the police to arrest the person who is mentally ill not knowing that the person might end up in a mental hospital. There is a need for collaboration between Mental Health Care Practitioners/Providers and Traditional Healers in order for them to be more supportive than judgmental. This will prevent relatives of the MHCUs from being secretive in that way the chain of treatment will not be broken resulting to lesser treatment default.

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