Exploring the relationship between stigma and help-seeking for mental illness in African-descended faith communities in the UK.

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Abstract

BACKGROUND

Stigma related to mental illness affects all ethnic groups, contributing to the production and maintenance of mental illness and restricting access to care and support. However, stigma is especially prevalent in minority communities, thus potentially increasing ethnically based disparities. Little is known of the links between stigma and help-seeking for mental illness in African-descended populations in the UK.

OBJECTIVE AND STUDY DESIGN

Building on the evidence that faith-based organizations (FBOs) can aid the development of effective public health strategies, this qualitative study used semi-structured interviews with faith groups to explore the complex ways in which stigma influences help-seeking for mental illness in African-descended communities. A thematic approach to data analysis was applied to the entire data set.

SETTING AND PARTICIPANTS

Twenty-six men and women who had varying levels of involvement with Christian FBOs in south London were interviewed (e.g. six faith leaders, thirteen 'active members' and seven 'regular attendees').

RESULTS

Key factors influencing help-seeking behaviour were as follows: beliefs about the causes of mental illness; 'silencing' of mental illness resulting from heightened levels of ideological stigma; and stigma (re)production and maintenance at community level. Individuals with a diagnosis of mental illness were likely to experience a triple jeopardy in terms of stigma.

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION

'One-size-fits-all' approaches cannot effectively meet the needs of diverse populations. To ensure that services are more congruent with their needs, health and care organizations should enable service users, families and community members to become active creators of interventions to remove barriers to help-seeking for mental illness.

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