Original Research

Qualitative study of mental health attribution, perceptions and care-seeking in Kampala, Uganda

John M. Bwanika, Charlotte Hawkins, Louis Kamulegeya, Patricia Onyutta, Davis Musinguzi, Audrey Kusasira, Elizabeth K. Musoke, Jascintha Kabeega
South African Journal of Psychiatry | Vol 28 | a1690 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajpsychiatry.v28i0.1690 | © 2022 John M. Bwanika, Charlotte Hawkins, Louis Kamulegeya, Patricia Onyutta, Davis Musinguzi, Audrey Kusasira, Elizabeth K. Musoke, Jascintha Kabeega | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 29 January 2021 | Published: 31 May 2022

About the author(s)

John M. Bwanika, Department of Research, The Medical Concierge Group, Kampala, Uganda; and, Infectious Diseases Institute Limited, Kampala, Uganda
Charlotte Hawkins, Department of Anthropology, University College London, London, United Kingdom
Louis Kamulegeya, The Medical Concierge Group Limited, Kampala, Uganda
Patricia Onyutta, The Medical Concierge Group Limited, Kampala, Uganda
Davis Musinguzi, The Medical Concierge Group Limited, Kampala, Ghana
Audrey Kusasira, Aukland University of Technology, Aukland, New Zealand
Elizabeth K. Musoke, CATChA Team, Kampala, Uganda
Jascintha Kabeega, Department of Psychiatry, Naguru Hospital, Kampala, Uganda


Background: Mental health problems contribute to a substantial proportion of the global burden of disease. In Uganda, the World Health Organization estimates that 2.2 million people are affected by mental health disorders. Further research is needed to highlight people’s views about mental health in order to ensure that services are appropriate, accessible and effective.

Aim: This qualitative study aimed to explore perceptions, experiences and care-seeking preferences to inform stakeholders looking to provide contextually appropriate mental health programmes.

Setting: A diverse neighbourhood in central Kampala, Uganda.

Methods: The authors conducted 56 in-depth semi-structured interviews with people over the age of 37 years from November 2018 to May 2019.

Results: Participants discussed interpersonal and systemic issues that affect mental health in their community and the existing coping mechanisms that people employ. Social factors were often associated with mental health problems, with 36% of participants attributing them to economic stressors in particular. Mental health services were often perceived to be unavailable, costly or stigmatised, which can mean that care-seeking is delayed until problems become severe. Some people said they prefer to turn to prayer (25%) or counselling within their family or community (12.5%).

Conclusion: Mental health problems are often attributed to socioeconomic factors, which can also hinder access to services. An understanding of perceptions about mental health can help to align programmes for appropriateness and effectiveness. Our study suggests that beneficial additional services for people living in low-income urban settings in Uganda could include those which are free, community-based or offering financial support.


mental health disorders; mental health services; care-seeking; mental health attribution; Uganda


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