Attitudes of primary health care providers towards people with mental illness: evidence from two districts in Zambia
Written in conjunction with the Mental Health and Poverty Project Research Programme Consortium
Objective: The aim of this study was to explore health care providers’ attitudes towards people with mental illness within two districts in Zambia. It sought to document types of attitudes of primary health care providers towards people suffering from mental illness and possible predictors of such attitudes. This study offers insights into how health care providers regard people with mental illness that may be helpful in designing appropriate training or re-training programs in Zambia and other low-income African countries. Method: Using a pilot tested structured questionnaire, data were collected from a total of 111 respondents from health facilities in the two purposively selected districts in Zambia that the Ministry of Health has earmarked as pilot districts for integrating mental health into primary health care. Results: There are widespread stigmatizing and discriminatory attitudes among primary health care providers toward mental illness and those who suffer from it. These findings confirm and add weight to the results from the few other studies which have been conducted in Africa that have challenged the notion that stigma and discrimination of mental illness is less severe in African countries. Conclusion: There is an urgent need to start developing more effective awareness-raising, training and education programmes amongst health care providers. This will only be possible if there is increased consensus, commitment and political will within government to place mental health on the national agenda and secure funding for the sector. These steps are essential if the country is improve the recognition, diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders, and realize the ideals enshrined in the progressive health reforms undertaken over the last decade.
Key words: Mental health; Stigma; Discrimination; Primary health care givers