Public stigma associated with mental illnesses in Pakistani university students: a cross sectional survey

Ahmed Waqas, Muhammad Zubair, Hamzah Ghulam, Muhammad Wajih Ullah, Muhammad Zubair Tariq
PeerJ 2014, 2: e698
Background. The objectives of the study were to explore the knowledge and attitudes of Pakistani university students toward mental illnesses. People with mental illnesses are challenged not only by their symptoms but also by the prejudices associated with their illness. Acknowledging the stigma of mental illness should be the first essential step toward devising an appropriate treatment plan. Methods. A cross-sectional survey was conducted at the University of Punjab, Lahore, CMH Lahore Medical and Dental College, Lahore, and University of Sargodha, Sub-campus Lahore, from February to May 2014. The self-administered questionnaire consisted of three sections: demographics, general knowledge of psychiatric illnesses, and Community Attitudes towards Mental Illnesses (CAMI) Scale. The questionnaire was distributed to 650 participants enrolled in different disciplines (Social Sciences, Medicine and Formal Sciences). Results. Response rate was 81% (527/650 respondents). Mean age was 20.98 years. Most of the students (331, 62.8%) had an urban background and studied Social Sciences (238, 45.2%). Four hundred and eighteen respondents (79.3%) considered religion very important and most respondents considered psychiatrists (334, 63.4%) and spiritual leaders (72, 13.7%) to be best able to treat mental illnesses. One hundred and sixty nine respondents (32.1%) considered black magic to be a cause of mental illness. Only 215 (41%) respondents had ever read an article on mental illnesses. Multiple regression analysis revealed study discipline, exposure, perceived causes of mental illnesses and superstitions to be significantly associated with attitudes towards mental illnesses (p < .05). Conclusion. Although low awareness and exposure were found in this sample of Pakistani university students, their attitude towards mental illnesses was generally positive. Most respondents gave supernatural explanations for mental illnesses but only a few believed that spiritual leaders can play a role in treatment.

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