Seminar 8: Peer support, mental health activism and changing doctor-patient relationships in Uganda

‘Peer support, mental health activism and changing doctor-patient relationships in Uganda’

The eighth and final HSMT seminar of Hilary Term will take place at 16.00 on Monday 6th March (Week 8) in the Lecture Theatre of the History Faculty on George Street, and will be delivered by Yolana Pringle.

Yolana Pringle is a Mellon/Newton Postdoctoral Fellow at CRASSH (Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities) 2014-present, and co-opted member of the Centre of African Studies. She has research interests in global health (particularly mental health) and the history of humanitarian intervention in Africa. She has conducted fieldwork in Uganda, Kenya, and Zanzibar. She holds a DPhil from the University of Oxford, which was awarded in 2013. While at CRASSH Yolana is conducting research on the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Africa since the 1950s. She is focusing on the ICRC’s education programmes and the diffusion of the Geneva Conventions in Eastern and Central Africa. Pringle’s doctoral research, funded by the Wellcome Trust, investigated the emergence of an internationally renowned psychiatric community in early postcolonial Uganda. During this time, Uganda established itself as a leader of mental health care in Africa, setting up a range of innovative research and education programmes. This aspect of Uganda’s history is all the more marked for its contrast with the almost complete collapse of mental health care in the 1970s and 1980s.

In the last ten years, the mental health landscape in Uganda has started to shift. New peer support groups, run by people living with mental illness, are engaged in outreach activities in the community. One of these groups is now based at Uganda’s psychiatric hospital, Butabika, supporting patients through recovery and working with British psychiatrists to provide recovery-oriented training to patients, staff, and carers. With support from human rights lawyers, former patients of Butabika have also successfully mounted legal challenges against outdated legislation and instances of degrading treatment. This seminar explores these recent developments, paying particular attention to the ways that ‘history’—both the history of psychiatry and in individual personal testimonies—is evoked and deployed as a tool in arguments for change. Drawing on oral histories, peer support media, court documents, and newspaper articles, Pringle discusses understandings of Uganda’s psychiatric past, explanations for stigma and discrimination, and reflect on how traditional spaces of psychiatry are being negotiated in new ways. She touches on hopes for the future, and consider the implications of recent developments for doctor-patient relationships in Uganda.

The abstract to Pringle’s thesis, ‘Psychiatry’s ‘golden age’: making sense of mental health care in Uganda, 1894-1972′, is available on SOLO, and the thesis itself can be consulted in the RSL.

Our seminar post last term about midwifery in Uganda has some more general reading about Ugandan healthcare, which readers may also be relevant to this seminar. Another title specific to Uganda and the topic of psychiatric care is John Orley’s Culture and mental illness : a study from Uganda (RC451.U4 ORL 1970), which pulls together anthropological and psychiatric studies of Uganda, analysing the difficult problems involved.









More widely, two other titles held in the Unit library focus on mental health in African countries. Colonial psychiatry and ‘the African mind’ by Jock McCulloch (RC451.A4 MCC 1995) describes clinical approaches of well-known European psychiatrists who worked with indigenous Africans, and explores problematic colonial notions of African inferiority. John Colin Carothers’ short pamphlet The African mind in health and disease : a study in ethnopsychiatry is a World Health Organisation monograph which further unpicks this concept of an ‘African mind’ and whether it has psychological relevance.









The library holds much material on mental illness and its surrounding attitudes, largely to be found in the section RC435-571, but we have picked out just two of them as an example. Madness and morals : ideas on insanity in the nineteenth century by Vieda Skultans (RC450.G7 MAD 1975) traces developments and changes in ideas about the insane and their treatment during the nineteenth century, looking at how psychiatric thinking reflects the contemporary moral outlook. Greg Eghigian’s From madness to mental health : psychiatric disorder and its treatment in Western civilization (RC438 FRO 2010)  considers how mental disorders have historically challenged the ways in which human beings have understood and valued their bodies, minds and souls.









Please come and ask library staff if you would like any help with locating resources, or conducting further research. We also welcome further suggestions for reading not included in this post!