Mental Health Stigma: What is being done to raise awareness and reduce stigma in south Africa?

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African Journal of Psychiatry

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University of Cape Town

Objective: Stigma plays a major role in the persistent suffering, disability and economic loss associated with mental illnesses. There is an urgent need to find effective strategies to increase awareness about mental illnesses and reduce stigma and discrimination. This study surveys the existing anti-stigma programmes in South Africa. Method: The World Health Organization’s Assessment Instrument for Mental Health Systems Version 2.2 and semi-structured interviews were used to collect data on mental health education programmes in South Africa. Results: Numerous anti-stigma campaigns are in place in both government and non-government organizations across the country. All nine provinces have had public campaigns between 2000 and 2005, targeting various groups such as the general public, youth, different ethnic groups, health care professionals, teachers and politicians. Some schools are setting up education and prevention programmes and various forms of media and art are being utilized to educate and discourage stigma and discrimination. Mental health care users are increasingly getting involved through media and talks in a wide range of settings. Yet very few of such activities are systematically evaluated for the effectiveness and very few are being published in peer-review journals or in reports where experiences and lessons can be shared and potentially applied elsewhere. Conclusion: A pool of evidence for anti-stigma and awareness-raising strategies currently exists that could potentially make a scientific contribution and inform policy in South Africa as well as in other countries.