Mental illness stigma continues to be a major barrier for individuals with mental illness.
Although mental health care has improved significantly over the last decades, many people still choose not to seek treatment or quit prematurely. A number of possible factors contribute to these disparities with stigma being perhaps the most significant. Stigma hurts individuals with mental illness and their communities, creating injustices and sometimes devastating consequences
In Mauritius , perceptions of family honour, shame, and moral responsibility, admission to psychiatric services, and cultural acceptance lead many families to hide family members with severe mental illness within their homes.
In my own Muslim culture, there is a rush to blame the illness or unusual behavior, attached to mental illness, onto ‘ine gagne diable’ ‘dimoune ine faire mechancheter’.’ Djinn’,’ ine gagne lizier’. It is more acceptable within our culture to believe more on such reasons so we cope with the reality of a family member being mentally unwell.
There is also a great deal of ignorance in our culture in what constitutes mental illness and what mental illness really looks like.
For many families in our culture, the perception of mental illness is when a person, is running naked, dancing in the street, talking to himself or being violent, among so many. Although these could be behaviors that someone with some sort of mental illness may exhibit. However these examples are the extremes. For many people, the reality of mental illness is what is portrayed in films, which is far from the reality.
Most people live with some types of mental illness without anyone being aware or realising it.
The stigma attached to mental illness is stopping people seeking help and support from mental health professionals. Instead families are rushing to spiritual healers, imams or other faith leaders to remove their perceived spells that is causing their sons and daughters to cry all day, in extreme sadness, talking of death, seeing things that aren’t there or believing they are someone they are not.
In addition, cultural beliefs in the existence of jinn (evil spirits) and diable (demon) may be confused with delusions of possession and control, and may prevent patients and family members from recognizing medical or psychiatric problems.
Unfortunately when the healers and faith leaders come to the conclusion of no such spells, at times it’s too late to get a timely treatment. This is why you see someone seeking professional help, months or years after the first episode started.
I AM NOT saying not to seek support from healers and faith leaders, BUT seek an opinion from both the mental health specialist and the spiritualist. In this way the sufferer will get support from both areas and the likelihood of getting better increases.
Because, in our culture, religion and spirituality often play a vital role in healing, people experiencing mental health concerns often turn first to a faith leader. From a public-health perspective, faith community leaders are sometimes ‘first point of contact’ when individuals and families face mental health or substance use problems. In that role they can help dispel misunderstandings, reduce stigma associated with mental illness and treatment, and facilitate access to treatment for those in need.
This will also reduce the stigma/taboo as religion and science need to be working together to support mental illness
Because of concerns with family social standing in our culture, disclosure of mental illness is still considered “shameful” .In my own Muslim culture, men/women may avoid sharing personal distress and seeking help from Mental health specialist due to fear of negative consequences with respect to marital prospects or their current marriages. Hence, because of stigma, they would rather suffer in silence.
Regrettably, some religious entities still propagate the fallacy of possession by an evil spirit and put individuals through drastic rituals in hope of eliminating, what can be clearly seen, as psychotic behaviors . Religion and science working together will no doubt see the patient being supported and helped.
Working as separate entities can only increase the level of stigma that already exists. Not only is the person stigmatized as being mentally ill, he or she now runs the severe risk of being stigmatized as being possessed as well. This has to stop.
I ask you, what prospect has one got in our current society, if he or she has the label, ‘Fou/Folle and ‘ena diable lor li’ ? You tell me if there is any future or is it fair to just stick label on someone? At least working together we can offer support to help the sufferer.
If you truly believe that the change in their behavior is due to spells, evil eye, demons, spirits, djin or something spiritual, by all means, take them to a spiritualist or a faith healer, BUT, please please, do consult a mental health professional as well so that we have the support from both fields.
Do not let anyone suffer because of shame, dishonor or losing your own credibility in front of your family or society. Do the right thing, stop the taboo/stigma on Mental illness.
Mental Health Specialist