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12 March 2004

The greatest stigma of all

“Stigma is the biggest obstacle to the treatment of people who suffer mental illness. The biggest cause of stigma is ignorance,” says Professor Margaret Nair from the Department of Psychiatry at Natal University.

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“Stigma is the biggest obstacle to the treatment of people who suffer mental illness. The biggest cause of stigma is ignorance,” says Professor Margaret Nair from the Department of Psychiatry at Natal University.

As a result of stigma, people prefer to suffer in silence. People are too ashamed to seek treatment and to seek support from others. According to Prof Nair, a recent survey has shown that 42% of people with mental illness did not tell their family that they were suffering and 22% had not told their partners.

The public perception that mentally ill people are dangerous and evil and that mental illness is self inflicted still exists. Prof Nair said that the media, particularly the movie industry, exacerbates stigma by irresponsible and incorrect portrayal of the mentally ill.

Effect on government funding
“Stigma also affects government funding. Psychotropic medication in state hospitals are cheap and archaic,” Prof Nair said.

There is a great shortage of psychiatrists in the country. Psychiatrists are being headhunted by other countries and leave South Africa for greener pastures. In the past two years, 150 psychiatrists have left the country.

Discrimination by medical aids
58% of visits to General Practitioners are usually due to some sort of mental problem, yet medical aids fail to recognise the importance of treating mental illness. Medical aid companies discriminate against the mentally ill by allocating inadequate funding for appropriate treatment.

“The limits on medication and hospitalisation for mental illness is blatantly discriminatory, but medical aids do not hesitate to offer unlimited benefits for other disorders.

“Stigma has to stop. Stigma destroys people’s lives,” Prof Nair said.

What is stigma?
The World Health Federation for Mental Illness defines stigma as a mark of shame, disapproval or disgrace that results in an individual being avoided or rejected by others. - (Ilse Pauw, health24)

For more information on mental illness contact the Mental Health Information Centre (021) 938 9229.

Related article:
Millions in SA suffer mental illness

 
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