I received this in my inbox today and felt it was a timely email. I received it from SAMHSA’s CMHS Consumer listserv and it discusses stigmas and stereotyping based on perceptions people have.
CMHS CONSUMER AFFAIRS E-NEWS 9 SEPTEMBER 2008
Perception of Mental Illness Affects Stigmatizing Attitudes
By Andrew Czyzewski
05 September 2008
Acta Psychiatr Scand 2008; Advance online publication
MedWire News: Perceiving mental disorders as “real medical illnesses” reduces stigmatizing attitudes among the general public, as does having had contact with a person suffering from a mental disorder, study results suggest.
By contrast, members of the public who believe mental disorders are a result of weakness of character are more likely than others to show stigmatizing attitudes, report A Jorm (University of Melbourne, Australia) and K Griffiths (The Australian National University, Canberra).
Previous studies on this topic have suggested that prejudice increases when the public are given biogenetic causal explanations for mental disorders, such as when schizophrenia is promoted as “an illness like any other.”
Arguing instead that stigmatizing attitudes are multi-faceted, the researchers conducted a survey among 3998 Australian adults to gather information on mental illness perception.
On a random basis, respondents were shown one of four vignettes: a person with early schizophrenia, one with chronic schizophrenia, one with major depression and one with major depression together with suicidal thoughts, but without these labels being assigned.
Participants were then asked whether they could identify the condition in question, what they believed were possible causes of the condition, whether it should be considered a “real medical illness,” and whether they had ever had contact with a sufferer (through friends, family, work etc).
In addition, participants were asked if they would be willing to make social contact with the person in the vignette.
The chronic schizophrenia vignette was responded to with the least willingness to make social contact and the depression vignette the greatest.
Participants who had had past contact with someone with a mental health disorder showed a greater willingness to socially engage with the person in the vignette, as did those who thought that the vignette was a “real medical illness.”
Participants who believed that the root cause of the vignette in question was the death of someone close showed a greater willingness to socially engage, while those who thought that weakness of character was the cause of the condition were less likely to engage.
Jorm and Griffiths comment in the journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica: “Biomedical conceptualizations are not the major cause of stigma, rather it is the behaviour associated with mental illness and the belief that this is because of personal weakness.”
They add: “The aim in promoting recognition of mental disorders by the public and their conceptualization as treatable illnesses is to promote earlier uptake of treatment and to reduce the person’s disability, with a consequent flow-on of reduced prejudice and discrimination.”