The Network Approach: A Path to Decolonize Mental Healthcare

The violent colonial history of psychiatry in Africa prevents individuals from seeking help. Because of this history, mental health care is now stigmatized, and clinical research, practice, and policy fail to capture the salient features of distress across African communities.
First Mental Hospital
A recent study in Kenya showed that someone given a formal DSM-5 Major Depressive Disorder was less likely to seek help
The network approach to psychopathology emerged as a popular framework for conceptualizing mental health disorders in the past decade

The Challenge

Mental health issues are a significant global concern, especially in low-resource areas like Africa. Unfortunately, efforts to improve mental health care are often held back by the region's complex and violent colonial history. This has resulted in societal stigma and a reliance on Western-derived classifications that often fail to capture the unique features of mental health problems in African communities.

The Solution

One way to overcome this challenge and transform mental health care is through an approach called the network approach to psychopathology. This approach views mental health disorders not as distinct entities but as a network of interconnected symptoms. This shift in perspective could help alleviate stigma, provide a more context-based understanding of mental health, and create new avenues for help-seeking.

The Study

The network approach to psychopathology has gained popularity over the past decade. It visualizes mental health disorders as dynamic systems made up of symptoms (nodes) and the relationships between these symptoms (edges). This approach can identify the most central nodes in a network, effectively highlighting the symptom(s) with the most influence on the other symptoms in the network.

The Procedure

The procedure involves analyzing the number of symptoms connected to a node and the likelihood of the connected symptoms being activated as a result of its activation. This allows us to map out not only the psychiatric symptoms that are present but also the relationships between these symptoms and the most influential symptom.

The Results

The results of using the network approach could lead to reduced stigma and improved help-seeking behavior. It could also open up new avenues for mental health care across Africa. For instance, this approach can identify the most influential mental health challenges in a specific demographic and develop low-cost interventions targeting these specific challenges.

In Conclusion

The network approach to psychopathology offers a promising framework for decolonizing mental health care in Africa. It presents a flexible, empowering approach to understanding and treating mental health issues that is more contextualized and relevant to the needs of contemporary African contexts.

Read our full study.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Explore other cases


Research Informs Our Work

See below on how research guides us every step of the way:

Science can help us shape the future

The goal of our research is to develop interventions that can help youth actualize their life outcomes, identify which interventions work and why, and develop and test novel and accessible approaches to dissemination and scaling in order to maximize our impact.

Open science

Open science allows us to collaborate and share our work with the world. Our data and publications are open access.

Multicultural collaboration

Multicultural and interdisciplinary collaboration amplifies the communities that we serve.

Contextualized research

Research is not done in a silo. It is done with and for communities. Context matters.

"Culture brings us together, and allows us to remain successful across many generations of Shamirians. It is what makes us unique."

Tom Osborn
Founder & CEO | Shamiri