Background: As conceptions of mental illness are often dictated by prevailing socio-cultural factors and the philosophy of the time, there is little research to substantiate how mental illness is perceived in the Arab world in the light of both traditional and more recent modernization and acculturation processes. Aims: To examine whether social factors exert an influence on a person's attitude towards people with mental illness (PWMI) in the rapidly changing country of Oman. Methods: This study compares the response elicited from medical students, relatives of psychiatric patients and the general Omani public on the causes of mental illness, attitudes toward PWMI and the care and management of people with mental illness. Results: This study found no relationship between attitudes towards PWMI, and demographic variables such as age, educational level, marital status, sex and personal exposure to people with mental illness. Both medical students and the public rejected a genetic factor as the cause of mental illness; instead they favoured the role of spirits as the aetiological factor for mental illness. There were favourable responses on statements regarding value of life, family life, decision-making ability, and the management and care of mental illness. However, both medical students and the public thought that PWMI tend to have peculiar and stereotypical appearances and the majority preferred that facilities for psychiatric care should be located away from the community. Although the relatives of psychiatric patients were concerned about the welfare of mental patients, their responses varied and were often contingent upon their expectations. Conclusions: The data suggest that neither socio-demographic factors nor previous exposure to PWMI was related to attitudes towards PWMI. Although the attitudes of Omanis toward PWMI appear to fluctuate in complex ways, traditional beliefs on mental illness have yet to be eroded by exposure to a biomedical model of mental illness. This study largely supports the view that the extent of stigma varies according to the cultural and sociological backgrounds of each society.
ASJC Scopus subject areas