Due to lack of quick access to adequate treatment by patients with mental health disorders in Yaoundé, we ask: when and where they actually seek help?

For the attention of: Health professionals and local communities in low- and middle-income countries

The problem: Mental health problems are an important source of burden worldwide. A key recommendation of the World Health Organization is that treatment should be based in primary care, whereby the provision of basic preventive and curative mental health care is provided at the first point of entry into the health care system.

In Cameroon, patients with mental health disorders resort to a wide range of treatment regimes, ranging from no treatment to professional care, traditional healers, faith healers and alternative medicine.

Yaoundé is the capital of Cameroon. Despite the high prevalence of mental health problems and disorders, patients in Yaoundé do not have quick access to adequate treatment. They resort to various health services ranging from modern to traditional healthcare.

What we did and why: We conducted a cross-sectional population survey to assess therapeutic pathways of city dwellers who suffer from mental disorders. We wanted to know how and why different forms of treatment were used.

What our study adds: We heard from patients using a range of treatment facilities, their pathways for mental health care varied substantially. Some patients experienced direct routes from the community to specialized care, others living in areas with few services experienced a wide variety of pathways that often included traditional or faith healers. The most important reasons for resorting to a particular facility were;

  • availability,
  • ease of accessibility,
  • belief in supernatural causation of illness.

People’s pathways into mental health care are often complex and can involve various formal and informal agents.

Implications for city policy and practice: Traditional and modern medicines will always be part of Cameroonian healthcare delivery, therefore efforts should be made to integrate traditional practitioners into the national healthcare delivery system.

We conclude that policy makers and public health, in developing a better level of support, must recognise:

  • the importance of improving awareness campaigns to facilitate the recognition of psychiatric disorders,
  • that family members have a significant role on the decision to seek help from health services.

Links to other resources: African Population & Health Research Center

Full research article: Access to health care in African cities: therapeutic pathways of city dwellers with mental health problems in Yaoundé, Cameroon

Authors: H. Blaise Nguendo Yongsi (@BlaiseYongsi)

Editor: Marcus Grant (@MarcusxGrant)