Exploring how a genetic attribution to disease relates to stigma experiences of Xhosa patients with schizophrenia in South Africa

Olivia P. Matshabane, Megan M. Campbell, Marlyn C. Faure, Patricia A. Marshall, Bongani M. Mayosi, Dan J. Stein, Paul S. Appelbaum, Jantina de Vries

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Over the past three decades, a range of international stakeholders have highlighted the possibility that genomic research may impact stigma associated with psychiatric disorders. Limited research has been conducted in Africa to investigate this relation. Method: In the present study, using focus group discussions, we explored the relation between genetic attribution and stigma among 36 Xhosa people with schizophrenia. We addressed three main questions: (1) What causal beliefs do Xhosa people with schizophrenia use to explain their illness and to what extent do genetic explanations play a role in these beliefs? (2) What are the internalised stigma experiences of Xhosa people with schizophrenia? (3) How do genetic explanations relate to stigma experiences, if at all? Results: Most participants were able to define genetics and some linked genetics to disease causation. Despite adequate knowledge of genetics and an emphasis on genetic explanations of schizophrenia in the study, most participants held a multitude of causal explanations including: psychosocial, environmental, and cultural. Moreover, participants rarely mentioned disease cause when describing their stigma experiences. Discussion: For this population group, there was no straight-forward relation between a genetic attribution and stigma. Therefore, we did not find evidence that genetic attribution may significantly increase stigma. Although North American and European literature provides conflicting evidence regarding this relation, there is increased consensus that biomedical explanations for psychiatric disorders may reduce blame. This study found evidence supporting that consensus. This study provides an empirical foundation to inform ongoing work on the psychosocial implications of psychiatric genomics research in non-Western contexts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1679-1686
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Genetic attribution
  • Schizophrenia
  • Stigma
  • Xhosa people


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