The knowledge, attitudes and perceptions of general assistants towards mentally ill patients in psychiatric hospitals in Cape Town in the Western Cape
The current debate on knowledge, attitudes and perceptions of medical staff and the broader community towards mentally ill patients across the world is also quite extensive in South Africa. The literature on the subject matter demonstrates poor knowledge of mental illness in the general population and also indicates that people often have stigmatising attitudes towards mental illness. However, while most studies have explored the attitudes, perceptions and behaviour towards mentally ill patients with respect to various staff categories such as doctors, nurses, pharmacists, psychologist and the community globally and particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, few studies have extended the analysis to include general assistants. Moreover, little research has been carried out on the knowledge, attitudes and perceptions towards mental illness and mentally ill patients of non-medical staff such as general assistants, who on a daily basis spend time with mentally health care users, ensuring hygiene in psychiatric hospitals in South Africa. This study intended to fill the gap by using a quantitative, descriptive approach encompassing a cross-sectional survey design to identify the level of basic mental health knowledge and determine attitudes and perceptions of general assistants towards mental illness and mentally ill patients in four government funded psychiatric hospitals in Cape Town, South Africa. A random sample of 124 was selected from the general assistants of the four psychiatric hospitals in Cape Town. The results established that the majority of General Assistants (75.6%) in all four psychiatric hospitals demonstrated fair basic mental health knowledge pertaining to mental illness and positive attitudes and perceptions towards mentally ill patients. Although the attitudes and perceptions are mostly positive, item analysis revealed that there are disparities in the results. One third of the general assistants find it stressful to work with mentally ill people. Others displayed frustration (30,1% ), mistrust (52%) and fear(12%). In addition, 82.9% of the general assistants like working with mentally ill people and the majority of the general assistants are comfortable working with mentally ill patients. The recommendation is that basic mental health awareness programmes or in-service training should be implemented for general assistants especially newly appointed general assistants to improve the knowledge and understanding, attitudes and perceptions of general assistants and to reduce fear and negative perceptions and attitudes in order to enhance positive patient experiences.