Original Research

The role of stigmas in mental health: A comparative study

Erhabor S. Idemudia, Nyambeni A. Matamela
Curationis | Vol 35, No 1 | a30 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/curationis.v35i1.30 | © 2012 Erhabor S. Idemudia, Nyambeni A. Matamela | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 29 July 2011 | Published: 26 June 2012

About the author(s)

Erhabor S. Idemudia, Department of Psychology, North West University (Mafikeng Campus), South Africa
Nyambeni A. Matamela, Psychology Unit, Voortrekker Hospital, Mokopane,, South Africa


Background: HIV (Human immunodeficiency Virus), AIDS and cancer are feared terminal diseases. HIV sufferers are known to be stigmatized. The stigma surrounding cancer, unfortunately, is hardly the focus of psychological investigations, and hence this provoked the need to compare the stigma suffered by both groups, and how these have impacted on the psychological functioning of the disease sufferer.

Objectives: The study had two main objectives, firstly, to explore whether HIV patients suffer more stigma than cancer patients or not, and secondly, to understand the most common type of stigma and if stigma is associated with psychopathology. Psychopathology is measured with GHQ–28 which evaluates somatic complaints, anxiety, depression and social dysfunction.

Method: The study was a survey, and descriptive in nature, and anchored on two hypotheses: Firstly, that HIV patients will experience more stigmas than cancer patients and consequently report more psychological dysfunctions. Secondly that there will be a significant difference between types of stigma and the symptoms reported about them. Data were collected from a conveniently sampled group of 50 HIV positive patients and another 50 patients diagnosed with cancer, in two clinics and a hospital around the Gauteng Province. The majority of the participants were females, numbering 62 (62, 0%), whilst 38 (38.0%) were males. The age of the respondents ranged from 20–73 years with a mean age of 44.4 years (s.d. = 11.6).

Results: Results revealed a significant main effect for enacted stigma F = (1.98), = 17.629, p < .001 and anxiety F = (1.98) = 5.750, p < .001. A post hoc Bonferroni also showed that HIV patients had a higher mean score of enacted stigma (X-bar = 4.22) than cancer patients (X-bar = 1.28) and also HIV patients reported more anxiety (X-bar = 8.81) than cancer patients (X-bar = 6.42). Enacted stigma significantly influenced the GHQ Total (F = (98) = 1.700, p < .05); anxiety (F = (97) = 2.578, p < .004); and depression (F = (97) = 3.390 p < .001). The perceived community stigma had one main effect for depression (F = (1.98) = 1.452, p < .05). There were no significant main effects for internally felt stigma and psychological dysfunctions. Both hypotheses were partially supported.

Conclusion: Recommendations included tailoring interventions to meet the cultural needs of patients. Other recommendations were made in accordance with the findings of the study.


stigma; mental health; psychopathology; HIV, AIDS; cancer


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Crossref Citations

1. Identity threat and stigma in cancer patients
Sarah Knapp, Allison Marziliano, Anne Moyer
Health Psychology Open  vol: 1  issue: 1  first page: 205510291455228  year: 2014  
doi: 10.1177/2055102914552281