Overcoming post-conflict trauma with art: three African case studies

In volatile environments such as conflict-torn North Kivu, post-genocide Rwanda, or Sierra Leone, experts and humanitarian aid workers are now employing art to support the treatment of mental health conditions caused by violence. In many areas of the African continent, people with psychological illnesses lack effective therapeutic support – left alone in dealing with the sickness and forced to fight every day against the stigma. In these circumstances, art therapy can represent an important ally to cure pathologies such as PTSD, depression or nevrosis.

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Arteterapia per superare traumi. I casi RDC, Sierra Leone, Ruanda

In contesti volatili quali la regione del Nord Kivu, il Ruanda post-genocidio o la Sierra Leone, l’arte è stata impiegata da specialisti e operatori umanitari per trattare diverse condizioni di natura psichica. In molte zone del continente africano le persone affette da patologie mentali mancano di un supporto terapeutico effettivo. Questi individui rimangono soli nell’affrontare la malattia e costretti a combattere contro lo stigma giorno dopo giorno. È tuttavia provato come l’arteterapia possa supportare il trattamento di stress post-traumatico, depressione o nevrosi e sia da considerarsi un alleato valido durante il processo di guarigione.

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Ghana, the solitude of the mentally ill in wards that were prisons

There are three such structures in the country. A 2012 law, which establishes, among other things, the decentralization of psychiatric services, has significantly reduced the number of patients and the problem of overcrowding. Today the number of beds exceeds the number of patients. However, there are still issues of abandonment and the stigma towards those with mental disorders. This investigation contains some stories of the guests of the oldest hospital (it dates back to 1906 and was in the beginning a prison) and the interview with the executive director of Mental Health Authority who also talks about the principle and reasons for the so-called “decolonizing mental health”.

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Abigail George, when the word confronts the darkness of paranoia

“Please help revise the jalapeños and Theodore Roethke” is the title of this poem that introduces us into an unusual yet familiar world. It is a wild territory where reality and dreams meet, where everyday elements remind us of their symbolic dimension and where the voices in our heads start a dialogue with the voices of authors whose books we have read or composers whose music we have listened to. Far from being a mere juxtaposition of images and sounds, Abigail George’s is an accurately structured poem that reveals the struggle for mental well-being and for becoming an independent, emotionally stable woman.

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“Mental 360”, in Kenya against youth depression and suicides

Mental 360 is a non-profit mental health awareness organization that has been active since 2016. Among its activities there are physical wellness, counselling, art therapy, yoga and dance, all aiming at promoting mental health and emotional stability. The end goal is to establish a society where mental illness is not stigmatized and treatment is affordable to the common citizen everywhere in Africa. We talked with Bright Shitemi, co-founder of the organization, who explained us the inspiration behind the NGO and the objectives, obstacles, results achieved to date and future goals.

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“Like a candle in the wind”, so we blow out the flame of our life

“It’s so difficult, this living thing / two decades sometimes / are more than one can bear”, this is the beginning of this moving poem composed about the sudden death of a very young and talented poet. It is the author herself to explain it, vangile gantsho, South African poet and healer who started to write and create at a young age and developed an interest into confessional and political writing. Although “some scars are too deep / even for poetry”, this poem enlightens the darkest emotions of the human soul that can lead to suicide, a choice no one should quickly label as coward and selfish, the author says.

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