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BMC Public Health

, 12:541

First Online: 23 July 2012Received: 29 October 2011Accepted: 23 July 2012DOI: 10.1186-1471-2458-12-541

Cite this article as: Crabb, J., Stewart, R.C., Kokota, D. et al. BMC Public Health 2012 12: 541. doi:10.1186-1471-2458-12-541


BackgroundStigma and discrimination associated with mental illness are strongly linked to suffering, disability and poverty. In order to protect the rights of those with mental disorders and to sensitively develop services, it is vital to gain a more accurate understanding of the frequency and nature of stigma against people with mental illness. Little research about this issue has been conducted in Sub- Saharan Africa. Our study aimed to describe levels of stigma in Malawi.

MethodsA cross-sectional survey of patients and carers attending mental health and non-mental health related clinics in a general hospital in Blantyre, Malawi. Participants were interviewed using an adapted version of the questionnaire developed for the -World Psychiatric Association Program to Reduce Stigma and Discrimination Because of Schizophrenia-.

Results210 participants participated in our study. Most attributed mental disorder to alcohol and illicit drug abuse 95.7%. This was closely followed by brain disease 92.8%, spirit possession 82.8% and psychological trauma 76.1%. There were some associations found between demographic variables and single question responses, however no consistent trends were observed in stigmatising beliefs. These results should be interpreted with caution and in the context of existing research. Contrary to the international literature, having direct personal experience of mental illness seemed to have no positive effect on stigmatising beliefs in our sample.

ConclusionsOur study contributes to an emerging picture that individuals in Sub-Saharan Africa most commonly attribute mental illness to alcohol- illicit drug use and spirit possession. Our work adds weight to the argument that stigma towards mental illness is an important global health and human rights issue.

AbbreviationsUNUnited Nations

WHOWorld Health Organisation.

Electronic supplementary materialThe online version of this article doi:10.1186-1471-2458-12-541 contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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Autor: Jim Crabb - Robert C Stewart - Demoubly Kokota - Neil Masson - Sylvester Chabunya - Rajeev Krishnadas


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