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International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being

Maureen A. Murney, Jaime C. Sapag, Sireesha J. Bobbili & Akwatu Khenti


Stigma and discrimination related to mental health and substance use issues in primary health care in Toronto, Canada: a qualitative study



Community Health Centres (CHCs) are an essential component of primary health care (PHC) in Canada. This article examines health providers’ understandings and experiences regarding stigma towards mental health and substance use (MHSU) issues, as well as their ideas for an effective intervention to address stigma and discrimination, in three CHCs in Toronto, Ontario.


Using a phenomenological approach, we conducted twenty-three interviews with senior staff members and peer workers, and three focus groups with front-line health providers. Ahybrid approach to thematic analysis was employed, entailing a combination of emergent and a priori coding.


The findings indicate that PHC settings are sites where multiple forms of stigma create health service barriers. Stigma and discrimination associated with MHSU also cohere around intersecting experiences of gender, race, class, age and other issues including the degree and visibility of distress. Clients may find social norms to be alienating, including behavioural expectations in Canadian PHC settings.


Given the turmoil in clients’ lives, systematic efforts to mitigate stigma were inhibited by myriad proximate factors that demanded urgent response. Health providers were enthusiastic about implementing anti-stigma/recovery-based approaches that could be integrated into current CHC services. Their recommendations for interventions centred around communication and education, such as training, CHC-wide meetings, and anti stigma campaigns in surrounding communities.

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