“Thinking Too Much”: A Systematic Review of the Idiom of Distress in Sub-Saharan Africa

Emma Louise Backe, Edna N. Bosire, Andrew Wooyoung Kim, Emily Mendenhall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Idioms of distress have been employed in psychological anthropology and global mental health to solicit localized understandings of suffering. The idiom “thinking too much” is employed in cultural settings worldwide to express feelings of emotional and cognitive disquiet with psychological, physical, and social consequences on people’s well-being and daily functioning. This systematic review investigates how, where, and among whom the idiom “thinking too much” within varied Sub-Saharan African contexts was investigated. We reviewed eight databases and identified 60 articles, chapters, and books discussing “thinking too much” across Sub-Saharan Africa. Across 18 Sub-Saharan African countries, literature on “thinking too much” focused on particular sub-populations, including clinical populations, including people living with HIV or non-communicable diseases, and women experiencing perinatal or postnatal depression; health workers and caregivers; and non-clinical populations, including refugees and conflict-affected communities, as well as community samples with and without depression. “Thinking too much” reflected a broad range of personal, familial, and professional concerns that lead someone to be consumed with “too many thoughts.” This research demonstrates that “thinking too much” is a useful idiom for understanding rumination and psychiatric distress while providing unique insights within cultural contexts that should not be overlooked when applied in clinical settings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)655-682
Number of pages28
JournalCulture, Medicine and Psychiatry
Volume45
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Idioms of distress
  • Mental health
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Thinking too much

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