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JOURNAL ARTICLE

The stigma of mental illness in Southern Ghana: attitudes of the urban population and patients' views

Antonia Barke, Seth Nyarko, Dorothee Klecha
Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 2011, 46 (11): 1191-202
20872212

PURPOSE: Stigma is a frequent accompaniment of mental illness leading to a number of detrimental consequences. Most research into the stigma connected to mental illness was conducted in the developed world. So far, few data exist on countries in sub-Saharan Africa and no data have been published on population attitudes towards mental illness in Ghana. Even less is known about the stigma actually perceived by the mentally ill persons themselves.

METHOD: A convenience sample of 403 participants (210 men, mean age 32.4±12.3 years) from urban regions in Accra, Cape Coast and Pantang filled in the Community Attitudes towards the Mentally Ill (CAMI) questionnaire. In addition, 105 patients (75 men, mean age 35.9±11.0 years) of Ghana's three psychiatric hospitals (Accra Psychiatry Hospital, Ankaful Hospital, Pantang Hospital) answered the Perceived Stigma and Discrimination Scale.

RESULTS: High levels of stigma prevailed in the population as shown by high proportions of assent to items expressing authoritarian and socially restrictive views, coexisting with agreement with more benevolent attitudes. A higher level of education was associated with more positive attitudes on all subscales (Authoritarianism, Social Restrictiveness, Benevolence and Acceptance of Community Based Mental Health Services). The patients reported a high degree of experienced stigma with secrecy concerning the illness as a widespread coping strategy. Perceived stigma was not associated with sex or age.

DISCUSSION: The extent of stigmatising attitudes within the urban population of Southern Ghana is in line with the scant research in other countries in sub-Saharan Africa and mirrored by the experienced stigma reported by the patients. These results have to be seen in the context of the extreme scarcity of resources within the Ghanaian psychiatric system. Anti-stigma efforts should include interventions for mentally ill persons themselves and not exclusively focus on public attitudes.

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