b Department of Psychology , University of Malawi , Zomba , Malawi.
The individual and social construction of psychological distress is fundamental to help-seeking and the extent to which interventions are seen as credible. Where pluralistic attributions for mental health problems predominate, the development of global mental health (GMH) interventions in the form of task-shifting approaches create increased access to new ways of understanding and responding to distress. However, little is known about how participants in these initiatives manage these encounters. This qualitative study in Malawi explored village-based health workers' (HSAs) and patients' and carers' views of the causes of distress and how these beliefs influenced help-seeking and the health workers' response. Eight HSAs and nine paired patients/carers were interviewed separately to enable each of nine experiences of distress to be explored. Findings revealed a complex set of personal, social and cultural influences that informed causative attributions and help-seeking decisions. Patients/carers viewed psychosocial stresses as compelling explanations and readily reported others attributing their distress to supernatural causes (bewitchment). Yet attributional beliefs alone were not the only influence over help-seeking, which evolved pragmatically in response to the impact of treatments and social pressure for conformity. In turn HSAs navigated the interactions with patients/carers by emphasising the biomedical approach and discrediting bewitchment attributions. This caused tensions when biomedical interventions were unhelpful or the traditional healers' approach proved beneficial. Conclusions add to the call for such task-shifting approaches to work with communities to discern authentic and practical responses to mental distress that mirror the 'pluralism and pragmatism' found in the communities they serve.
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