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Int J Ment Health Syst. 2008 Dec 23;2(1):16. doi: 10.1186/1752-4458-2-16.

Psychological distress and associated factors among the attendees of traditional healing practices in Jinja and Iganga districts, Eastern Uganda: a cross-sectional study.

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  • 1Karolinska Institutet, Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Stockholm, Sweden.



Mental health problems are a major public health concern worldwide. Evidence shows that African communities, including Uganda, use both modern and traditional healing systems. There is limited literature about the magnitude of psychological distress and associated factors among attendees of traditional healing practices. This study aimed to determine the prevalence and associated factors of psychological distress among attendees of traditional healing practices in two districts in Uganda.


Face-to-face interviews with the Lusoga version of the Self Reporting Questionnaire (SRQ-20) were carried out with 400 patients over the age of 18 years attending traditional healing in Iganga and Jinja districts in Eastern Uganda. Patients were recruited consecutively in all the traditional healers' shrines that could be visited in the area. Persons with 6 or more positive responses to the SRQ were identified as having psychological distress. Prevalence was estimated and odds ratios of having psychological distress were obtained with multiple logistic regression analysis.


387 questionnaire responses were analyzed. The prevalence of psychological distress in connection with attendance at the traditional healers' shrines was 65.1%. Having a co-wife and having more than four children were significantly associated with psyclogical distress. Among the socioeconomic indicators, lack of food and having debts were significantly associated with psychological distress. The distressed group was more likely to need explanations for ill health. Those who visited both the healer and a health unit were less likely to be distressed.


This study provides evidence that a substantial proportion of attendees of traditional healing practices suffer from psychological distress. Associated factors include poverty, number of children, polygamy, reason for visiting the healer and use of both traditional healing and biomedical health units. These findings may be useful for policy makers and biomedical health workers for the engagement with traditional healers.

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