The stigma of mental illness in Sri Lanka: the perspectives of community mental health workers

Namali Samarasekara, Matthew Lloyd Millins Davies, Sisira Siribaddana

Abstract


Background

While the prevalence of mental illness is increasing, stigma associated with mental illness in Sri Lanka remains unexplored.

Aims

To gain an understanding of how stigma associated with mental illness exists in Sri Lanka, from the perspectives of community mental health workers (CMHWs). Furthermore, to explore their views on how any arising issues regarding stigma may be tackled in the future.

Methods

Purposive and snowball sampling methods were used to recruit community mental health workers for this small qualitative study.  Nine semi-structured interviews were conducted, using an interview guide designed by the first author.  The data was analysed using the ‘thematic framework’ approach.

Results

Stigma is associated with the family unit; there is strong faith in traditional beliefs and healers; and negative attitudes and behaviours exist regarding mental illness.  CMHWs are influenced by poor health seeking behaviours and low prioritisation of mental health services in the country.  CMHWs can contribute to reducing stigma by increasing awareness of mental illness in various ways but also believe that increasing availability of services within Sri Lanka is key in reducing stigma.

Conclusions

This study provides insight into how stigma exists specifically in Sri Lankan communities and influences the work of CMHWs.  Many findings reinforce existing international health literature and thus convey that stigma is an important issue that must be tackled globally.


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