Accepted Paper:

Worried sick: food insecurity and mental health in the Ghanaian savanna  


Jessica Ham (University of Georgia)

Paper short abstract:

I explore the causality of a condition in rural Ghana known as worry sickness. I present contextualized data that not only establishes how wealth is understood to relate to mental health in a subsistence economy, but exposes how such a relationship is often deleterious.

Paper long abstract:

This paper argues that the role of anthropology in assessing the relationship between wealth and mental health is to provide more nuanced analysis of these two variables so as to clarify how wealth variably contributes to mental health. Wealth is a broad category that always deserves contextual definition. Furthermore, mental health is understood and experienced in widely differential ways. The long-term and empirical tools of anthropology, including interviews and participant observation, are vital to documenting how people's perceptions of their economic circumstances contributes to mental well being.

I use my current dissertation research in Ghana to explore how food insecurity, as an indicator of low or unstable wealth standing, contributes to a local condition known as worry sickness. Worry sickness involves symptoms similar to what would be labelled as an anxiety disorder or depression and is described as a condition that can limit productivity. Importantly, I draw attention to how gender roles associated with the local food economy reveal differences in how worry sickness is experienced by men and how it is experienced by women. By exploring the causality of worry sickness as well as capturing the experiential effects of the condition, I present case studies that not only establish how wealth is understood to relate to mental health in this rural savannah context, but expose how such a relationship is experienced and often deleterious. Such microscopic analysis of a generalized relationship helps explains why the relationship is important to acknowledge.

Panel P63
Economic wealth and mental health: questioning the paradoxes