October 20, 2005

Anti-stigma campaigns target violence stereotype

According to a new study done by researchers at the University of Leipzig in Germany, campaigns aimed at reducing stigma and discrimination toward people with schizophrenia would be most effective if they addressed perceptions of unpredictability and dangerousness.

In the study performed by the researchers, a fictional case scenario was presented to 5,025 people, describing an individual who met the scientific criteria for schizophrenia or major depressive disorder. Participants were asked to describe the problem presented.

Responses were grouped into four categories: correct psychiatric diagnosis, other psychiatric illness, personal problem or other. Participants then indicated whether the individual was unpredictable or dangerous, whether lack of willpower was responsible for the illness and what the prognosis would be given optimal treatment. They were also asked whether they had personal experience with mental illness. Finally, participants were given a list of social relationships such as tenant or in-law and indicated whether they would accept the individual from the case scenario in such roles.

The study found that regardless of familiarity with mental illness, mental illness labels increased the likelihood that participants would consider the individual unpredictable and dangerous. Perceived unpredictability and dangerousness increased negative responses to accepting the individual in a social role. Labelling the problem as a mental illness lowered the tendency to attribute the disorder to lack of willpower. The authors caution that the findings may be limited by the study's focus on schizophrenia. They conclude that anti-stigma campaigns should address stereotypes of unpredictability and dangerousness because these are most likely to affect people's willingness to engage in social relationships with individuals with schizophrenia.

Source: Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Evaluation, May 2005, v. 40: 391-395. Matthias C. Angermeyer and Herbert Matschinger, Department of Psychiatry, University of Leipzig, Leipzig, Germany

Additional related stories and research:

Reducing the stigma of schizophrenia: understanding the process and options for interventions

Subjective experiences of stigma. A focus group study of schizophrenic patients, their relatives and mentalhealth professionals

Considerations on the Stigma of Mental Illness


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