Supporting Basic Mental Health Care in Burundi

“Many people here in Burundi spend their little money on traditional healers because they do not understand mental health problems,” according to a community worker in the Cibitoke region: “We will inform them that there are other ways to be helped. We will talk to them. Now we can do an evaluation and decide if they need to see a doctor.”

WarTrauma trainers spend four weeks of training in Burundi this spring. Following a training of trainers in 2018, we had the opportunity to train 2 more trainers and support the trainers of last year with a refresher to become more independent. The 12 trainers of 2018 together trained 150 people in three regions in February and March.

Burundi has faced many crises in the past half century. Since its independence in 1962 the country has been experiencing civil war, genocide and instability. Most Burundians at one point in their lives have been refugees or internally displaced. Substance abuse is a significant problem. As a result many Burundians are suffering from traumatic stress due to their experiences often in combination with extreme poverty.

At the same time the country has only one psychiatrist working in the public health field and due to poor infrastructure the one psychiatric hospital in the capital is out of reach for most. Most people instead turn to traditional healers for their mental health issues.

WarTrauma believes the training of the community workers and basic health staff will contribute to a decentralisation of care and to ensure more people have access to mental health care. In addition, improved understanding of mental health issues can support the rehabilitation into society of mentally ill people.