Idioms of distress, ethnopsychology, and the clinical encounter in Haiti's Central Plateau.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Haiti's 2010 earthquake mobilized mental health and psychosocial interventions from across the globe. However, failure to understand how psychological distress is communicated between lay persons and health workers in rural clinics, where most Haitians access care, has been a major limitation in providing mental health services. The goal of this study was to map idioms of distress onto Haitian ethnopsychologies in a way that promotes improved communication between lay persons and clinicians in rural Haiti. In Haiti's Central Plateau, an ethnographic study was conducted in May and June 2010, utilizing participant observation in rural clinics, 31 key informant interviews, 11 focus groups, and four case studies. Key informants included biomedical practitioners, traditional healers, community leaders, and municipal and religious figures. Deductive and inductive themes were coded using content analysis (inter-rater reliability > 0.70). Forty-four terms for psychological distress were identified. Head (tèt) or heart (kè) terms comprise 55% of all qualitative text segments coded for idioms of distress. Twenty-eight of 142 observed patient-clinician contacts involved persons presenting with tèt terms, while 29 of the 142 contacts were presentations with kè terms. Thus, 40% of chief complaints were conveyed in either head or heart terms. Interpretations of these terms differed between lay and clinical groups. Lay respondents had broad and heterogeneous interpretations, whereas clinicians focused on biomedical concepts and excluded discussion of mental health concerns. This paper outlines preliminary evidence regarding the psychosocial dimensions of tèt and kè-based idioms of distress and calls for further exploration. Holistic approaches to mental healthcare in Haiti's Central Plateau should incorporate local ethnopsychological frameworks alongside biomedical models of healthcare.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Keys, HM; Kaiser, BN; Kohrt, BA; Khoury, NM; Brewster, A-RT

Published Date

  • August 2012

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 75 / 3

Start / End Page

  • 555 - 564

PubMed ID

  • 22595073

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1873-5347

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.03.040


  • eng

Conference Location

  • England