Local perceptions of the mental health effects of the Rwandan genocide

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86 Scopus citations


The objectives of this study were to investigate how Rwandans perceive the mental health effects of the 1994 genocide, to investigate the local validity of western mental illness concepts, and (if these concepts were found to be valid) to provide data to adapt existing mental health assessment instruments for local use. We used three ethnographic methods to interview people in two rural areas in Rwanda: first, free listing provided a list of local terms for mental symptoms and disorders; second, key informant interviews then provided more detailed information about these disorders; and finally, pile sorts confirmed the relationships among symptoms and disorders that emerged from the other methods. We found that interviewees described the diagnostic symptoms of depression and posttraumatic stress disorder as results of the genocide and also described associated "local" symptoms not included in the established diagnostic criteria. They divided symptoms into a "mental trauma" syndrome that included the posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms and some depression and local symptoms, and a grief syndrome that included other depression and local symptoms. In the pile sorts, we focused on investigating mood disorders and confirmed that four of the locally described symptoms formed part of a local depression-like illness. The results suggest that depression occurs among this population and support the local content validity of depression assessment instruments, such as the Depression section of the Hopkins Symptom Checklist. Similar independent evidence of validity is missing from most cross-cultural surveys. Our work supports the need and feasibility for collecting this supporting evidence prior to conducting cross-cultural surveys using existing instruments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)243-248
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Nervous and Mental Disease
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 7 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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