African Perspectives on Mental Disorder

  • Felix Attah Johnson


In Africa as in Europe, North America, South America, Asia, and Oceania, the advantages of diagnostic classification of psychiatric disorders include: (1) a means of communication and of ordering clinical material, (2) the management, treatment, and care of patients, (3) prognosis, and (4) the great scientific interest found in discrepancies in the classification, which may form the basis for asking further relevant clinical and research questions. It seems impossible to speak of a single African viewpoint because the continent contains a broad range of cultures. The Ga, the Masai, and the Kikuyu, for example, are as different in their specific ceremonies and customs as the Bantus are from the Belgians. Yet in sub-Saharan black Africa the different cultures do share a consciousness of the world. They have in common a characteristic perception of life and death that makes it possible to describe their overriding philosophy. The character and effectiveness of medicine for the mind and the body always and everywhere depend on the culture in which the medicine is practiced. In the West, healing is often considered to be a private matter between patient and therapist. In Africa, healing is an integral part of society and religion, a matter in which the whole community is involved. To understand African psychiatry and psychotherapy one must understand African thought and its social roots (Lambo 1974). For the African, the original concept of nature includes simultaneously the physical world and the social environment of both the living and the dead, together with the metaphysical forces of the universe. This concept is fundamental to a grasp of traditional African medicine in all its dimensions (Ampofo and Johnson-Ramauld 1978).


Schizoaffective Disorder Depressive Illness African Patient African Culture Depressed Type 
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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1994

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  • Felix Attah Johnson

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