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Nigerian Journal of Family Practice

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Identifying social labels for mental illness in a Nigerian university: the overt problem of public stigmatisation of persons affected

R.I. Ekore, A.J. Ajuwon, J.O. Abdulmalik, O.O. Omigbodun, T Bella-Awusah

Abstract


Introduction: Labelling remains one of the forms of public stigma experienced by persons with mental illness and this has its attendant consequences not only for the individual sufferer but also for the family members/care-givers and the society as a whole. In a bid to avoid labelling and other forms of public stigma there is a tendency to avoid reporting, denying signs and symptoms of mental illness, seeking treatment as appropriate, or avoiding places where stigmatization is often experienced such as schools or social gatherings.

Methods: The study was a Focus Group Discussion that took place in the University of Ibadan. Participants were undergraduate students who were volunteering as prospective mental health peer counsellors.

Result: Seventeen volunteers participated in the FGDs. The FGPs volunteered a total of 20 names/terms that are used to refer to or describe people experiencing mental health problems, some of which include “Wéré!”, “scoin-scoin”, “Aro”, “imbalance”, “breakdown”, “kolo”, “nkan ti tasi l'opolo”, “mood switch”, ”issues”, “brain touch”, “psycho”, “madness”, “Prof”, “iwé!”, “Alase”, “West West G” (West West Ground), “Yaba Left” and “unbalanced”.

Discussion: These terms are obviously derogatory and stigmatizing and may themselves have negative impact on the mental health of the affected person. Most of the names given by the participants are quite similar to those mentioned by the participants in similar studies to explore the role of stigma in relation to treatment avoidance. Stigmatization not only lowers the self-esteem of those affected, it may lead to mood disorders, poor treatment adherence and poor academic functioning.

Conclusion: Public stigma towards persons with mental health issues is still a social issue. Considering the widespread existence of public stigma towards persons with mental illness and its attendant consequences, continued efforts through established effective methods should be made to address this issue, so as to ensure that individuals experiencing mental health issues will always feel free to seek help and function better in all ramifications of daily life.

Support: A partial bursary was received from the John D. and Catherine T. McArthur Foundation, University of Ibadan, for this study.




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