Repository logo

States of senslessness : an exploratory study of the social representations of ‘ukuhlanya’ (mental illness).

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This study aims to illustrate the manner in which the rural youth from KwaZulu-Natal view mental illness (‘ukuhlanya’). The study was embarked upon in order to expand on the available literature regarding the opinions of the youth about mental illness within rural Southern Africa. Literature on mental illness within Southern Africa has traditionally lacked focus on the rural youth, hence this study aims to investigate mental health and the opinions held on it within this particular group of people. The study was conducted on youth aged between 13 and 18 from the area of KwaNyuswa, Hillcrest. The study was adapted according to De Rosa’s 1987 study, whereby the participants drew pictorial representations of mentally ill individuals and engaged in semi-structured interviews. The findings of the study illustrate that the social representations of the youth in rural KwaZulu-Natal are underpinned by their educational and cultural backgrounds and the communities which they live in. The findings indicated that the African model of understanding mental illness is still present but in the case of the youth, it is coupled with higher literacy levels, thus, making the youth more sympathetic towards mentally ill individuals than their older counter parts. The study has offered insight into where the youth in rural KwaZulu-Natal are positioned in terms of understanding mental illness and what their views, values and practices towards mental health are. These findings can be used to promote healthy dialogue about mental illness at school level and in so doing, create greater awareness of mental health issues. In turn this will foster better mental health amongst the youth. The study is limited in that the sample was relatively small and from only one area, thus, the findings cannot be generalised across cultures or geographical areas.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.