Misperceptions and stigma on mental illness

You fall into one of two categories: normal or abnormal. Because mental health is non-existent in developing countries, there is no in-between of rather mental disorders. That is, if there is nothing physically wrong with you, you must be fine; otherwise, you are insane, or perhaps your behavior is insane. If your behavior is far beyond what most people can comprehend, you are unquestionably abnormal.

“Look at a crazy man”– that is the most common phrase used for people with schizophrenia in developing African countries. It’s heartbreaking, but no one realizes it’s a brain disorder; instead, someone thinks they’re crazy. In some countries, it is believed that a mentally ill person has been bewitched (black magic) or cursed, is possessed by evil spirits, or suffers from other metaphysical ailments. Not only are you cursed, but your entire family is thought to be cursed as well. If one member of a family is determined to be insane, the entire family may be excluded. Women and girls, for example, are unable to marry into other households for fear that their children will be affected as well. If a mental ailment is thought to have a metaphysical origin, it’s only natural to look for a metaphysical cure. The most common practice is to take people suffering from disorders to traditional healers. Ancestor rituals are performed in voodoo temples in Togo, Benin, and Nigeria[1]. The ceremonies are thought to enlist the assistance of the gods or ancestors. Others take persons suffering from mental disorders to church and leave them there until they recover. People who are disturbed, as exorcists refer to them, are possessed by evil spirits, according to them. They attempt to liberate afflicted people from such entities through ceremonies and prayers— I’m curious, do people suffering from schizophrenia or perhaps any brain disorder get better from church or perhaps an exorcism?

Most people with brain disorders live on the streets, helpless. They have families and friends, but because they believe they are cursed or bewitched, there is no room for them any longer. Others accept them as they are, but if or when the journey becomes frustrating, as it often does in West Africa, if psychological problems are linked to violent outbursts, the person is frequently beaten, confined for weeks or months without food, or chased into the jungle or forest to fend for oneself. [1]

People suffering from mental illnesses are perceived as dangerous and violent, widening Asia’s social gap. The application of supernatural, religious, and magical therapies to mental illness is gaining popularity. The road to treatment is frequently shaped by the skepticism of mental health services and therapies. The stigma imposed by family members is widespread. Furthermore, the societal rejection and devaluation of families containing mentally ill members is concerning. This is particularly true in the cases of marriage, divorce, and marital separation. Psychic symptoms, unlike physical ailments, are regarded as socially inconvenient. [2]

In Malaysia, 15 patients with mental illnesses participated in studies. 12 of the 15 respondents reported severe stigmatization and discrimination from their family. According to a state psychiatrist, there are instances when a patient is discharged from the hospital and no family members are available to pick them up. As a result, an ambulance is dispatched to bring them back. When the patient’s family notices him approaching, they lock the doors and windows. They’re pretending they’re not at home. Eight of the fifteen patients reported having difficulty maintaining friendships. Some people are friendly at first, but once they realize you’re mentally ill, they stop answering your calls or refuse to hang out with you, according to one patient. It’s a tragedy, the patient continued. Seventeen out of fifteen employees reported active stigma from their employers. In one case, a patient told potential employers about his condition at the end of the interview, and they later rescinded his offer. Another person mentioned taking sick leave because he was depressed. When he returned, he was fired[3].

“Patients are thrown out of their own homes and they don’t know where to go. So they sleep by the road. Or at back alleys. They are left tattered and dirty. So how to get a job? Without a job, how to get money to live? So they are stuck, having to rely on people for it, sometimes having to beg. They have no power at all”. – [P003, private clinical psychologist].

Mental illness is still viewed through the lens of socio-cultural and religious beliefs, which contributes to stigma. The prevalence of mental disease stigma has been repeatedly demonstrated to be a significant disabling factor for those suffering from mental illnesses. It raises the possibility of a vicious circle of prejudice and deterioration. As a result, individuals with mental health issues face increased stigma and have fewer opportunities in many areas of their lives, including social connections, employment, and health rehabilitation. [3] Mental health stigma is an issue that must be addressed as soon as possible because it has a negative impact on the lives of those who suffer from mental disorders, potentially resulting in social and economic losses. Furthermore, mental health stigma discourages people from seeking mental health treatment. As a result, the significance of reducing mental health stigma cannot be overstated. [4]

The most significant sources of mental illness stigma and misperceptions appear to be a lack of knowledge and awareness, as well as unfavorable media representations. There is an urgent need to eliminate stigma associated with mental illness in society and the health system through education and awareness initiatives.


[1] New 21/09/2021 – by Mahwish Gul, et al. “In West Africa, Traditional or Religious Practices Are Often the Preferred Method of Treating Mental Disorders.” D+C, https://www.dandc.eu/en/article/west-africa-traditional-or-religious-practices-are-often-preferred-method-treating-mental.

[2] W;, Lauber C;Rössler. “Stigma towards People with Mental Illness in Developing Countries in Asia.” International Review of Psychiatry (Abingdon, England), U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17464793/.

[3] Hanafiah, Ainul Nadhirah, and Tine Van Bortel. “A Qualitative Exploration of the Perspectives of Mental Health Professionals on Stigma and Discrimination of Mental Illness in Malaysia.” International Journal of Mental Health Systems, BioMed Central, 10 Mar. 2015, https://ijmhs.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13033-015-0002-1#Sec34.

[4] Park, Jong-Ik, and Mina Jeon. “The Stigma of Mental Illness in Korea.” Journal of Korean Neuropsychiatric Association, Korean Neuropsychiatric Association, 30 Nov. 2016, https://synapse.koreamed.org/articles/1017812.


6 thoughts on “Misperceptions and stigma on mental illness”

  1. Tied to trees? how agonizing. I wonder what the people suffering from the disorder feel. They are stuck between contemplating what could be wrong with them and the fact that the society perceives what could be wrong with them as their fault.


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