Maasai women hearing voices: Implications for global mental health

Neely Myers, Elizabeth Lesitei Mollel, Luca Pauselli, Marne Chacon, Michael Compton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


There is a sparse literature on women who hear voices globally, even though there are documented gendered dimensions of distress in the context of globalization and climate change and research indicates that trauma and psychosocial stress may be related to an increased prevalence of voice-hearing or auditory verbal hallucinations (AVHs). There is also a gap in the cultural phenomenology of voice-hearing in general, as well as idioms of distress for non-western peoples. This article presents results of a mixed methods study that: 1) estimated community prevalence of voice-hearing among Maasai women in northern Tanzania; 2) examined any demographic correlates and two specific hypothesized correlates (i.e., psychological stress and potentially traumatic events); and 3) engaged women in semi-structured interviews about their everyday lives and the phenomenological experience of voice-hearing. The prevalence of voice-hearing (39.4%) in this nonclinical sample (n = 71) was quite high compared to other studies in sub-Saharan Africa. Most women also reported high psychosocial stress and traumatic life events. They also talked about gendered conditions of social adversity in a context of rapid social, economic, and climate change. Women who reported hearing voices had a statistically significantly higher level of psychological distress, met criteria for severe psychological distress, and reported more potentially traumatic life events. In a logistic regression model, psychosocial stress predicted voice-hearing. The presence of distressing voices may offer a straightforward way to quickly identify people in the community experiencing the most extreme levels of psychosocial stress and traumatic events—a potentially simple but effective screening tool for health workers on the ground.

Original languageEnglish
JournalTranscultural Psychiatry
StateAccepted/In press - 2022


  • auditory verbal hallucinations
  • gender
  • indigenous
  • stress
  • trauma


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