Stigmatising attitudes towards the mentally ill: A survey in a Nigerian university teaching hospital

Dominic Ignatius Ukpong, Festus Abasiubong


Background. The burden of mental illness is particularly severe for people living in low-income countries. Negative attitudes towards the mentally ill, stigma experiences and discrimination constitute part of this disease burden.

Objective. The aim of this study was to investigate knowledge of possible causes of mental illness and attitudes towards the mentally ill in a Nigerian university teaching hospital population.

Method. A cross-sectional descriptive study of a convenience sample of 208 participants from the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital, Uyo, Nigeria, using the Community Attitudes towards the Mentally Ill (CAMI) scale. Information was also obtained on beliefs about possible causes of mental illness.

Results. The respondents held strongly negative views about the mentally ill, mostly being authoritarian and restrictive in their attitudes and placing emphasis on custodial care. Even though the respondents appeared to be knowledgeable about the possible role of psychosocial and genetic factors in the causation of mental illness, 52.0% of them believed that witches could be responsible, 44.2% thought mental illness could be due to possession by demons, and close to one-third (30%) felt that it could be a consequence of divine punishment.

Conclusions. Stigma and discrimination against the mentally ill are widespread even in a population that is expected to be enlightened. The widespread belief in supernatural causation is likely to add to the difficulties of designing an effective anti-stigma psycho-educational programme. There is a need in Nigeria to develop strategies to change stigma attached to mental illness at both institutional and community levels.


Stigma , Attitudes , Discrimination against the mentally ill

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Submitted: 11 January 2010
Published: 01 April 2010

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South African Journal of Psychiatry    |    ISSN: 1608-9685 (PRINT)    |    ISSN: 2078-6786 (ONLINE)