Stigma towards people with mental illness in developing countries in Asia

Int Rev Psychiatry. 2007 Apr;19(2):157-78. doi: 10.1080/09540260701278903.


Background: There is a wide range of literature on stigmatization and discrimination of people with mental illness. Most studies, however, derive from Western countries. This review aims at summarizing results from developing countries in Asia published between 1996-2006.

Method: Medline search focusing on English-speaking literature.

Results: Comparable to Western countries, there is a widespread tendency to stigmatize and discriminate people with mental illness in Asia. People with mental illness are considered as dangerous and aggressive which in turn increases the social distance. The role of supernatural, religious and magical approaches to mental illness is prevailing. The pathway to care is often shaped by scepticism towards mental health services and the treatments offered. Stigma experienced from family members is pervasive. Moreover, social disapproval and devaluation of families with mentally ill individuals are an important concern. This holds true particularly with regards to marriage, marital separation and divorce. Psychic symptoms, unlike somatic symptoms, are construed as socially disadvantageous. Thus, somatisation of psychiatric disorders is widespread in Asia. The most urgent problem of mental health care in Asia is the lack of personal and financial resources. Thus, mental health professionals are mostly located in urban areas. This increases the barriers to seek help and contributes to the stigmatization of the mentally ill. The attitude of mental health professionals towards people with mental illness is often stigmatizing.

Conclusion: This review revealed that the stigmatization of people with mental illness is widespread in Asia. The features of stigmatization-beliefs about causes of and attitudes towards mental illness, consequences for help-seeking-have more commonalities than differences to Western countries.

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / psychology
  • Asia
  • Culture
  • Dangerous Behavior
  • Developing Countries*
  • Family / psychology
  • Humans
  • Magic
  • Mentally Ill Persons / psychology*
  • Prejudice*
  • Psychological Distance
  • Social Conformity
  • Social Values
  • Stereotyping*