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Perception of stigma among family members of individuals with schizophrenia and major affective disorders in rural Ethiopia

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Background: Many studies from the Western world have reported on stigmatisation of people with mental illnesses and its negative consequences, but few studies have addressed the issue in traditional rural societies. The present study aimed to estimate the extent and socio-demographic distribution of stigma as perceived by relatives of mentally ill individuals in rural Ethiopia. Method: A total of 178 relatives of individuals who were diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia or major affective disorders in a community-based survey were interviewed using the Family Interview Schedule. Results: About 75 % of the respondents perceived that they were stigmatised or had experienced some sort of stigma due to the presence of mental illness in the family, 42 % were worried about being treated differently and 37 % wanted to conceal the fact that a relative was ill. Those from the older age group (45+) and urban residents were more likely to perceive stigma as a major problem, but otherwise differences were few between socio-demographic groups. The illness was attributed to supernatural forces by 27 % and praying was suggested as a preferred method to deal with the problem by 65 %. Conclusion: Stigma was found to be a common problem, with few differences between socio-demographic groups or between types of mental disorder. Beliefs about causes differ from those held by professionals. Popular beliefs and attitudes must be taken into account when planning for intervention.

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Accepted: 19 February 2001

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Shibre, T., Negash, A., Kullgren, G. et al. Perception of stigma among family members of individuals with schizophrenia and major affective disorders in rural Ethiopia. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 36, 299–303 (2001).

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