Who Is Responsible: Situating Mental Illness within the Family in Niger

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 11:15 AM
Room: 422
Oral Presentation
Gina AIT MEHDI , Université Libre de Bruxelles LAMC, Brussels, Belgium
Who is responsible: Situating mental illness within the family in Niger

Most studies in social sciences (cf. theories of pathological communication for example, the school of Polo Alto, and these of labeling) concerned with understanding the relation between the family and the mental illness have been greatly influenced by the paradigm of family responsibility. These studies likewise did the contributors known under the umbrella of movement of de-institutionalization of the psychiatry in Europe and USA in the second half of twentieth century emphasized the family role by considering it as the main support of the individual patient. Following this lead, they paid attention to emotional and social aspects of the family as a relational entity. This body of knowledge foremost, however, not all, developed by sociologists, is characterized by a lack of attention paid to the every day interactions of the patient within a relational field of the family. This is what informs the perspective of my paper.

Based on empirical material collected between September 2011 and December 2012 in Niger, I will highlight the social consequences of the mental illness within the family. Using both an attentive approach to interactions at the quotidian and ‘’long-term analysis’’ aiming at examining the personal biographies of the patient, I specifically interrogate the dynamics within the family resulting from the mental illness. I present several cases from my fieldwork to describe the ‘’negotiated interactions’’ of how relatives of patients deal with mental illness. Here, I centrally pay greater attention to economic, therapeutic and the choice of the place of residence defined by these. In fine, the paper shows how important is to place the family within an extended field of relation in order to comprehend its implications at practical and etiological levels and how these, ultimately influence the trajectory of the person ill.