The aim of this qualitative study was to explore the presence, causes and means of addressing individual and systemic stigma and discrimination against people with mental illness in Zambia. This is to facilitate the development of tailor-made antistigma initiatives that are culturally sensitive for Zambia and other low-income African countries. This is the first in-depth study on mental illness stigma in Zambia.
Fifty semi-structured interviews and 6 focus group discussions were conducted with key stakeholders drawn from 3 districts in Zambia (Lusaka, Kabwe and Sinazongwe). Transcripts were analyzed using a grounded theory approach.
Mental illness stigma and discrimination is pervasive across Zambian society, prevailing within the general community, amongst family members, amid general and mental health care providers, and at the level of government. Such stigma appears to be fuelled by misunderstandings of mental illness aetiology; fears of contagion and the perceived dangerousness of people with mental illness; and associations between HIV/AIDS and mental illness. Strategies suggested for reducing stigma and discrimination in Zambia included education campaigns, the transformation of mental health policy and legislation and expanding the social and economic opportunities of the mentally ill.
In Zambia, as in many other low-income African countries, very little attention is devoted to addressing the negative beliefs and behaviours surrounding mental illness, despite the devastating costs that ensue. The results from this study underscore the need for greater commitment from governments and policy-makers in African countries to start prioritizing mental illness stigma as a major public health and development issue.
African Journal of Psychiatry (2010) 13 (3) 192-203