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Mental health and traditional healing: an exploration of UKZN students’ perceptions of using traditional healing methods to achieve mental health.

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Mental illness has been documented as one of the global phenomena that impacts many people across the country. The perceptions of mental illness and the effective treatment methods are influenced by many factors such as perceived causes, culture, attitudes, experiences, and policies that are put in place within the health care systems (Choudhry, Mani, & Khan, 2016; Eaton & Louw, 2000; Gopalkrishnan, 2018). South Africa, as a multi-cultural context embraces multiple perspectives in which mental illness can be treated. Existing treatment modalities such as psychotherapy and traditional healing continue being accessible for patients who suffer from mental illness. The Eurocentric methods of treatment such as Psychotherapy and the medical model have been reported as treatment modalities that lack the understanding of an African person living inclusive of external and supernatural forces believed to play a role in maintaining physical and spiritual well-being. Afrocentric models such as traditional healing methods have been identified as a useful treatment modality (World Health Organization, 2010). In South Africa, traditional healers are mostly consulted by people who preserve their cultural beliefs and practices as methods of achieving physical, spiritual, and mental health. The inclusion for people who rely on traditional healing was introduced lawfully under the Traditional Healers Act (Act No. 22 of 2007). The implementation of the Traditional Healers Act (Act No. 22 of 2007) in the health care system declares approval of traditional treatments and proposes an outline to protect individuals who use the services.The study aimed to explore the perceptions of UKZN students regarding mental illness and traditional healing as a treatment modality. The aim was to understand the different factors that influence their perceptions, taking into consideration the ecological systems theory that elaborates on the environmental context individuals participate in. The theory further pertains the attitudes, beliefs, and values people hold which consequently influence their perception. This study undertook a qualitative research approach that aided to understand and explore participants’ feelings, perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes. A semi-structured interview schedule was prepared and was used as a guideline to conduct interviews. The study found that at each level of the ecological system, there are processes that take place which influences an individual participating in the context. These systems lie on three levels of the ecological system, namely, the microsystem that entails the family structure, the processes between the individual and the school, as well as social groups such as friends and neighbourhoods (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). The exosystem and the mesosystem indicative of social interactions, and from the macrosystem represented by the university context and its policy structures (Harkonen, 2007). The findings reveal that culture is a common factor that influences how students perceive mental illness as aspects of culture tie into beliefs and standard behaviour and practices intended to achieve good health. It further revealed that students rely on their beliefs, attitudes, social norms of the structures they participate in, that grant them necessary health options and thus utilize resources that align with these beliefs.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.