Mental health disorders (MHD) are leading causes of disabilities. Awareness of MHD in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is crucial to both health care professionals and general community if those affected by MHD are to be allowed to live in dignity and be socially included, rather than being treated as outcasts or witches, as is presently the case. Therefore, this review aims to map and summarise the extent to which awareness of MHD and dementia in SSA challenges stigmatisation issues.
A systematic review was conducted using electronic databases (PubMed, CINAHL, PsycINFO). A content analysis of selected studies was performed. Findings on awareness challenges and stigmatisation were identified and categorised.
A total of 230 publications were screened, 25 were selected for this review. The results demonstrate strong supernatural beliefs influencing peoples' perceptions of diseases. These perceptions promote stigmatising attitudes towards people with MHD and dementia. The education level correlated with stigmatising attitudes, whereby higher educated people were less likely to distance themselves socially from people with MHD and from people living with dementia (PwD). Astonishingly, even people educated in health issues (eg, nurses, medical practitioners) tended to have strong beliefs in supernatural causations of diseases, like witchcraft, and hold negative attitudes towards MHD and PwD.
This review provides some evidence on the influence of traditional beliefs on MHDs in SSA. Those beliefs are powerful and exist in all segments in SSA-communities, promoting superstitious perceptions on diseases and stigmatisation. Awareness and education campaigns on MHD are absolutely mandatory to reduce stigmatisation.