Serious mental illness (psychosis) 59
Serious mental illness (psychosis)
Women with disabilities are at risk for mental illness if they have:
• had mental health problems in the past.
• lost family members or are separated from their families.
• witnessed violence or have violent partners.
• little social support.
A woman with a disability may be mentally ill if she has any of these signs:
• She hears voices or sees things that others do not hear or see (hallucinations).
• She has strange beliefs that interfere with daily life (delusions)—for example,
she thinks her neighbors are trying to kill her.
• She no longer cares for herself—for example, she does not get dressed, clean
herself, or eat.
• She behaves in a strange way, like saying things that make no
Similar signs can be caused by some diseases, poisoning,
medicines, drug abuse, or damage to the brain. People who are not
mentally ill sometimes act in ways that make others question their
mental health, particularly if these behaviors are related to beliefs or
traditions that are not shared by the entire community. For example,
if a woman says she received guidance in a “vision,” she may be
drawing upon traditional sources of knowledge and guidance—not
suffering from hallucinations or mental illness. These signs are more
likely to be signs of mental illness if they come so often and are so
strong that a person has difficulty carrying out daily activities.
Getting care for mental illness
Although in most places family members care for those who are mentally ill, it is
best if the person can also be treated by a trained mental health worker. In some
situations medicines are necessary, but they should never be the only treatment.
Traditional healers often play an important role in treating mental illness. A
healer who comes from the same community as the person with the problem may
know her and her family, understand her, and have a clear idea of the stresses she
has experienced. Some healers use treatments or rituals that can help a woman
overcome her problem.
No matter what treatment is given, a person with a mental illness should
always be treated with kindness, respect, and dignity.
A Health Handbook for Women with Disabilities 2007