The British Journal of Psychiatry

Abstract

Background The improvement of community tolerance of people with mental illnessis important for their integration. Little is known about the knowledge of and attitude to mental illness in sub-Saharan Africa.

Aims To determine the knowledge and attitudes of a representative community sample in Nigeria.

Method Amultistage, clustered sample of household respondents was studied in three states in the Yoruba-speaking parts of Nigeria (representing 22% of the national population). A total of 2040 individuals participated (responserate 74.2%).

Results Poor knowledge of causation was common.Negative views of mental illness were widespread, with as many as 96.5% (s.d.=0.5) believing that people with mental illness are dangerous because of their violent behaviour. Most would not tolerate even basic social contacts with a mentally ill person: 82.7% (s.e.=1.3) would be afraid to have a conversation with a mentally ill person and only 16.9% (s.e.=0.9) would consider marrying one. Socio-demographic predictors of both poor knowledge and intolerant attitude were generally very few.

Conclusions There is widespread stigmatisation of mental illness in the Nigerian community. Negative attitudes to mental illness may be fuelled by notions of causation that suggest that affected people are in some way responsible for their illness, and by fear.

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