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Traumatic events and posttraumatic stress disorder in individuals with severe mental illness in a non-western setting: Data from rural Ethiopia.


Traumatic events and ensuing stress are not widely studied in individuals with severe mental illness (SMI) despite their increased vulnerability to both. Far less is known about traumatic events and posttrauma reactions in people with SMI in low-resourced settings.


To address this gap in knowledge, our study focused on trauma and its effects for individuals with SMI and their caregivers in rural Ethiopia. Study aims were to identify events that were considered traumatic by stakeholders; characterize the mental health effects of such events; and discern events and posttrauma symptoms most relevant for SMI.


Qualitative interviews were gathered from 48 participants in Ethiopia who included individuals with SMI, their caregivers, health care providers, and community and religious leaders.


Based on a combined emic and etic approach, major traumatic events included those commonly experienced in rural Ethiopia (e.g., lost property, forced marriage) and endorsed by individuals with SMI (e.g., restraining or chaining, SMI illness in a low-resourced setting). In addition, traumatic events were identified consistent with Western medical criteria (e.g., physical assault, sexual assault). Posttrauma symptoms that were commonly reported included emotions like anger and sadness; thinking too much; crying; and somatic (e.g., burning sensation) and physiological (e.g., shortness of breath) symptoms. As for symptoms consistent with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, we found the presence of all four symptom clusters.


Overall, results point to the common occurrence of traumatic events and trauma-linked symptoms for individuals with SMI and their caregivers, including as a result of SMI. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).

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