Nurses not Curses: Witchcraft Beliefs and Mental Health in Sierra Leone

Nurses not Curses: Witchcraft Beliefs and Mental Health in Sierra Leone

By the time Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war was finally brought to an end in 2002, the psychological toll on the population had been huge. In a survey of women conducted by Physicians for Human Rights in August 2011, 94% rated their mental health as ‘poor’ or ‘fair’ and 28% reported experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings. The World Health Organisation (WHO) meanwhile found that over 100,000 of Sierra Leoneans over twelve were severely depressed, 50,000 had demonstrated psychotic behaviour, and 200,000 reported some form of substance abuse. Furthermore, the country had just one psychiatrist and only two psychiatric nurses.

It has been over a decade since then, but progress has been slow. Despite efforts by international organisations and aid agencies to channel funding towards mental healthcare, there is still only one hospital in the country equipped to treat patients with mental health issues, meaning many have to rely on traditional healers. Meanwhile awareness campaigns aimed at educating people about mental health also still have a long way to go. A study of Sierra Leoneans’ perceptions of mental health in 2002 found that 25% thought psychological problems were due to substance abuse, 16% cited “God’s will” and 10% […]

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