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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Perception and beliefs about mental illness among adults in Karfi village, northern Nigeria

Mohammed Kabir1, Zubair Iliyasu1, Isa S Abubakar1 and Muktar H Aliyu12*

Author affiliations

1 Department of Community Medicine, Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano, Nigeria & Department of Community Medicine & Primary Care, Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria

2 Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of Alabama at Birmingham, USA

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Citation and License

BMC International Health and Human Rights 2004, 4:3  doi:10.1186/1472-698X-4-3

Published: 20 August 2004



This study was designed to examine the knowledge, attitude and beliefs about causes, manifestations and treatment of mental illness among adults in a rural community in northern Nigeria.


A cross sectional study design was used. A pre-tested, semi-structured questionnaire was administered to 250 adults residing in Karfi village, northern Nigeria.


The most common symptoms proffered by respondents as manifestations of mental illness included aggression/destructiveness (22.0%), loquaciousness (21.2%), eccentric behavior (16.1%) and wandering (13.3%). Drug misuse including alcohol, cannabis, and other street drugs was identified in 34.3% of the responses as a major cause of mental illness, followed by divine wrath/ God's will (19%), and magic/spirit possession (18.0%). About 46% of respondents preferred orthodox medical care for the mentally sick while 34% were more inclined to spiritual healing. Almost half of the respondents harbored negative feelings towards the mentally ill. Literate respondents were seven times more likely to exhibit positive feelings towards the mentally ill as compared to non-literate subjects (OR = 7.6, 95% confidence interval = 3.8–15.1).


Our study demonstrates the need for community educational programs in Nigeria aimed at demystifying mental illness. A better understanding of mental disorders among the public would allay fear and mistrust about mentally ill persons in the community as well as lessen stigmatization towards such persons.

Mental illness; perception; beliefs; attitudes; northern Nigeria