Community perceptions of mental distress in a post-conflict setting: A qualitative study in Burundi

Itziar Familiar, Sonali Sharma, Herman Ndayisaba, Norbert Munyentwari, Seleus Sibomana, Judith K. Bass

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is scant documentation of the mental health characteristics of low-income communities recovering from armed conflict. To prepare for quantitative health surveys and health service planning in Burundi, we implemented a qualitative study to explore concepts related to mental distress and coping among adults. Mental distress was defined as problems related to feelings, thinking, behaviour and physical stress. Using free listing and key informant interviews with a range of community members, we triangulated data to identify salient issues. Thirty-eight free list respondents and 23 key informants were interviewed in 5 rural communities in Burundi using 2 interview guides from the WHO Toolkit for Mental Health Assessment in Humanitarian Settings. Based on these interviews, we identified four locally defined idioms/terms relating to mental distress: ihahamuka (anxiety spectrum illnesses), ukutiyemera (a mix of depression and anxiety-like syndrome), akabonge (depression/grief-like syndrome) and kwamana ubwoba burengeje (anxiety-like syndrome). Mental distress terms were perceived as important problems impacting community development. Affected individuals sought help from several sources within the community, including community leaders and traditional healers. We discuss how local expressions of distress can be used to tailor health research and service integration from the bottom up.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)943-957
Number of pages15
JournalGlobal public health
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2013


  • developing country
  • distress
  • mental health
  • post-conflict
  • qualitative

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


Dive into the research topics of 'Community perceptions of mental distress in a post-conflict setting: A qualitative study in Burundi'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this