Measuring and Understanding Depression in Women in Kisoro, Uganda

Cult Med Psychiatry. 2019 Mar;43(1):160-180. doi: 10.1007/s11013-018-9604-9.


Depression is highly prevalent and the cause of considerable suffering for peoples across the globe. Case finding for depression is challenging because individuals often do not recognize the symptoms in themselves or may resist the diagnosis as a result of cultural stigma. Screening instruments, to be accurate, must be valid in the particular setting in which they are being applied, and diagnosis in primary care settings, is further made challenging because patients often present with a wide variety of somatic symptoms that could be medical. 115 women were screened for depression in this study in one community in Uganda, and 87 were found to be depressed using the SRQ-20. The cognitive impairment and decreased energy sub-scales of the SRQ-20 seemed to best differentiate for depression. We then interviewed the 87 women and found that, overwhelmingly, their complaints were somatic, and that their expectation for treatment was to receive medical tests and medications. Caregivers in primary care clinics in Uganda should know that in the reporting of their somatic symptoms patients may be trying to communicate more about themselves than just the state of their physical health; and that feelings of uselessness or of hopelessness when expressed by a patient should lead them to suspect severe mental illness since these symptoms were not found to be characteristic of the milder depression that is highly prevalent in Ugandan women.

Keywords: Depression; Diagnosis; Distress idioms; Explanatory models; Somatic idiom; Uganda.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Depression / diagnosis*
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Medically Unexplained Symptoms
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Social Stigma*
  • Uganda
  • Women / psychology
  • Young Adult