Original Research

Socio-economic factors associated with mental health disorders in Fort Portal, western Uganda

Charlotte Hawkins, John M. Bwanika, Martin Ibanda
South African Journal of Psychiatry | Vol 26 | a1391 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajpsychiatry.v26i0.1391 | © 2020 Charlotte Hawkins, John M. Bwanika, Martin Ibanda | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 13 March 2019 | Published: 07 July 2020

About the author(s)

Charlotte Hawkins, Department of Anthropology, University College London, London, United Kingdom
John M. Bwanika, The Medical Concierge Group Limited, Kampala, Uganda
Martin Ibanda, Mental Health Unit, Fort Portal Regional Referral Hospital, Fort Portal, Uganda


Background: Mental health disorders, which are interlinked with social issues such as poverty and stigma, present a significant burden in Uganda.

Aim: This article explores perceptions about and experiences of mental health disorders in western Uganda, particularly as they pertain to the socio-economic context.

Setting: The research was conducted in the mental health unit at the Fort Portal Regional Referral Hospital, Kabarole District, Uganda.

Method: This article is based on qualitative anthropological research conducted from January to March 2017, including 49 semi-structured interviews about ideas and determinants of mental health, with health workers, former mental health service users, their relatives and influential community members.

Results: Many interviewees felt that mental health disorders are an increasing problem in their community. Economic challenges, such as poverty, unemployment and financial stress, are seen as both a cause and a consequence of mental illness. Mental health challenges can be exacerbated by shortages in mental healthcare, which are shown to be complexly interrelated with stigma.

Conclusion: This article provides an insight into mental health experiences in Fort Portal based on the perspectives of various interviewees. Further funding and research are recommended to inform contextually appropriate services.


mental health; mental health services; stigma; economic stress; outreach; Uganda


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Crossref Citations

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