Collective responses to mental health stigma: Sharing lived wisdom — Joseph Kalisa


This paper draws on the rich history of collective narrative practice. It describes a series of conversations with people in Rwanda who had been subject to stigma associated with mental health issues. Although stigma was an experience shared by group members, we were careful to avoid generalisation, and to attend to both individual and collective experiences. Working in ways that honoured local culture and tradition, we arrived at a shared metaphor of mental health stigma being like imungu, the cowpea weevil. This enabled us to draw on participants’ extensive knowledge of managing the destructive effects of imungu on crops and harvests when eliciting local responses to mental health stigma. Rich stories emerged about the diverse ways in which people resisted stigma, and how these were connected to sustaining relationships and cultural resources. Participants drew connections between poverty and mental illness and emphasised the role of solidarity and collective economic development in responding to the effects of stigma. These local knowledges, which sometimes diverged from ‘mainstream’ psychological prescriptions, are shared here in the hope that they might contribute to other communities facing similar hardships.