Mentally sick persons are often discriminated against and prejudiced. This attitude towards them is mainly as a result of the society beliefs and attitudes towards the disease and also the symptoms. The stigma that these people face are a major barrier to their ability to seek help. They sometimes feel that they cannot be listened to or that people will run away from them. The society also fails to recognize the condition as a disease and hence does not accord them the necessary support (Knifton, 2012).
Background of the Problem
Stigma associated with mental illness is present in all societies, in the world. The source of this stigma has been identified by researchers as knowledge deficiency which is replaced by traditional beliefs and attitudes (Evans-Lacko et al., 2012); (Bemak, 2013). Many researchers identify stigma as having negative beliefs and attitudes towards a person or a situation and directly showing them. Stigmatization negatively affects social relations and socialization.
Mental health patients are mainly stigmatized due to the accompanying behavioral change, especially as a result of cognitive and thoughts impairment characterizing their conditions (Covarrubias & Han, 2011). The people living around them often set themselves aside and do not want to be associated with the patients. It is in this situation that the society labels them “mad” or “crazy.” Whenever these words are used in any community, most people are not empathetic on the patient being referred. Some societies, even reverts to victim blaming, counting the patients responsible for their problems (Moses, 2010).
When segregated and discriminated, the mental health patients lose the important contact with people who could help (Bathje & Pryor, 2011). Some, in their impaired cognitive status, cannot make for themselves the important decisions such as seeking medical attention for the disease and also for any other health issue. Lack of support thus impairs their health seeking behavior. Therefore, when a mental health patient has been segregated from the rest of the community, their mental and general health condition is impaired, they become vulnerable to many infective and lifestyle diseases as well as other dangers to personal and community health. It is for this reason that the problem requires serious attention (O’Mahony & Donnelly, 2007).
The attention so described is to come from the society leaders, the healthcare providers, the sociologists and anthropologists. The leaders in the society should plan and educate the society on the issue of mental health (Rae Olmsted et al., 2011). These activities should involve all the other stakeholders to ensure that the community is guided to abandon retrogressive beliefs and attitudes that create the stigma. This society focused approach towards the issue of stigma is important because it helps to alleviate the problem from its source (Kobau, Diiorio, Chapman, & Delvecchio, 2010). The purpose of the approach is not so much to condemn negative attitude, but rather to fill the knowledge gap which leads to the development of these attitudes among the members of the society. When this is done, stigma will reduce and the health seeking behavior of the patients will be improved (Pescosolido, Medina, Martin, & Long, 2013).
A PICOT question for this study could be; for patients with mental health problems, comprehensive society, education and involvement is more effective than confinement in psychiatric wards in enhancing their health seeking behavior.
The rationale of this study is, therefore, to identify the effects of social stigma on the health seeking behaviors of mental health patients. The research objectives include;
- To identify the societal beliefs concerning mental health.
- To find out how these beliefs result to the stigmatization of mental health patients.
- To assess the health seeking behavior of mental health patients in the society.
- To relate the level of stigmatization and the health seeking behavior.