Understanding the Nature of Stigma Communication Associated With Mental Illness in Africa: A Focus on Cultural Beliefs and Stereotypes

Understanding the Nature of Stigma Communication Associated With Mental Illness in Africa: A Focus on Cultural Beliefs and Stereotypes

Stephen Gichuhi Kimotho (United States International University – Africa, Kenya)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3808-0.ch002

Abstract

Besides health and social costs, mentally ill, often, are also victims of stigma and discrimination, among many communities in Africa. Cultural beliefs, stereotypes are some of the social constructions used to perpetuate mental illness stigma. The purpose of this study was to describe the nature of stigma communication associated with mental illness, beliefs and stereotypes underpinning mental illness stigma. Generally, the findings indicate nature of mental illness stigma communication is an intersection of stigma messages, cultural beliefs, and stereotypes associated with mental illness. Cultural beliefs associated with mental illness are inextricably intertwined with the perceived causes of mental illness (which include curses, witchcraft, cultural misdemeanor, and possession by spirits or demons). Symptoms of mental illness (mainly aggression and nudity) mark the mentally ill as different and expose them to labeling by the rest of the community. Generally, the mentally ill are stereotyped as aggressive, symbol of shame, and unpredictable.
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Background

Mental illness is a silent epidemic throughout most parts of Africa. Owing to structural and systemic barriers such as inadequate health care infrastructure, insufficient number of mental health specialists, and lack of access to all levels of care, mental illness has been characterized as a neglected and increasingly burdensome problem affecting all segments of the population throughout Africa (Monteiro, 2015).

Stigma has been regarded as the most important obstacle to the appropriate treatment and rehabilitation of those suffering from mental illness (Sartorius, 2002). Some of these social constructions used to perpetuate stigma among the members of different communities include: myths, beliefs, stereotypes and misconceptions associated with mental disorders. However, stigma is a fairly elusive concept and scholars from various disciplines have defined and used the term in varied ways and for different purposes (Link, Yang & Phelan, 2004). Although there are some clear indicators of the social origins of stigmatization and the factors that perpetuate it, a generally accepted unitary theory of the origins stigma remains elusive to date. The following section gives a preview of some approaches and theories used to understand the stigma problem in various contexts.

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