Euro-centric psychiatric conceptualizations often ignore the interplay of local with universal factors in psychological suffering. Emic, locally focused perspectives can enrich etic knowledge to provide culturally sensitive care and to better elucidate the role of culture in mental illness. This study explored the idiom Tsûsa ǃNaeǃkhais xa hâǃnâ/mâǃnâ/ǂgâǃnâhe hâ (a terrible event has entered a person and remains standing inside), which was understood to relate to experiences of trauma and post-traumatic stress, among speakers of Khoekhoegowab, a southern-African click language. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 16 participants from six urban and rural communities in Namibia. Questions probed perceptions of the idiom in terms of etiology, course, and risk and resilience factors from a socio-ecological framework. Five key themes were identified using thematic analysis: origin in a shocking event; intrusive recurrence of memories, “it keeps on coming back”; the close interplay between mental and physical suffering; the importance of active engagement in healing through prayer and acceptance; and the role of the community in both alleviating and amplifying distress. Our findings highlight local norms and strategies for adaptive coping, and the benefits of exploring local idioms to elucidate the braiding together of universal and cultural elements in psychological distress.