Rural vs urban residence and experience of discrimination among people with severe mental illnesses in Ethiopia

Forthal, Sarah; Fekadu, Abebaw; Medhin, Girmay; Selamu, Medhin; Thornicroft, Graham; Hanlon, Charlotte

Few studies have addressed mental illness-related discrimination in low-income countries, where the mental health treatment gap is highest. We aimed to evaluate the experience of discrimination among persons with severe mental illnesses (SMI) in Ethiopia, a low-income, rapidly urbanizing African country, and hypothesised that experienced discrimination would be higher among those living in a rural compared to an urban setting.

The study was a cross-sectional survey of a community-ascertained sample of people with SMI who underwent confirmatory diagnostic interview. Experienced discrimination was measured using the Discrimination and Stigma Scale (DISC-12). Zero-inflated negative binomial regression was used to estimate the effect of place of residence (rural vs. urban) on discrimination, adjusted for potential confounders.

Of the 300 study participants, 63.3% had experienced discrimination in the previous year, most commonly being avoided or shunned because of mental illness (38.5%). Urban residents were significantly more likely to have experienced unfair treatment from friends (χ2(1) = 4.80; p = 0.028), the police (χ2(1) =11.97; p = 0.001), in keeping a job (χ2(1) = 5.43; p = 0.020), and in safety (χ2(1) = 5.00; p = 0.025), and had a significantly higher DISC-12 score than those living in rural areas (adjusted risk ratio: 1.66; 95% CI: 1.18, 2.33).

Persons with SMI living in urban settings report more experience of discrimination than their rural counterparts, which may reflect a downside of wider social opportunities in urban settings. Initiatives to expand access to mental health care should consider how social exclusion can be overcome in different settings.

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September 22, 2023


Global mental health, Mental illness, Discrimination, Stigma, Psychotic disorders, Bipolar disorder, Urbanization