Stigma and Mental Illness: Investigating Attitudes of Mental Health and Non-Mental-Health Professionals and Trainees

Article excerpt

The authors explored attitudes toward adults with mental illness. Results suggest that mental health trainees and professionals had less stigmatizing attitudes than did non-mental-health trainees and professionals. Professionals receiving supervision had higher mean scores on the Benevolence subscale than did professionals who were not receiving supervision. Implications for teaching, practice, and research are discussed.

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Researchers have investigated and substantiated that the general population stigmatizes individuals who have been diagnosed with a mental illness (Crisp, Gelder, Rix, Meltzer, & Rowlands, 2000; Gureje, Lasebikan, Ephraim-Oluwanuga, Olley, & Kola, 2005; Lauber, Anthony, Ajdacic-Gross, & Rossler, 2004; Levey & Howells, 1994; Link, Phelan, Bresnahan, Stueve, & Pescosolido, 1999). Mental illness is defined in this article as medical conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression that disrupt a person's thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others, and daily functioning (National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2009, [paragraph] 1). Researchers have discussed a number of common stigmatizing attitudes toward adults with mental illness (Corrigan, 2004). Such attitudes include beliefs that adults with mental illness are dangerous and need to be avoided, are to blame for their illness, are weak in character, and are incompetent and need oversight and care.

It seems clear, then, that stigma still exists as a detrimental phenomenon in the lives of individuals diagnosed with a mental illness (Link, Yang, Phelan, & Collins, 2004; Link, Struening, Neese-Todd, Asmussen, & Phelan, 2001; Perlick et al., 2001).

In the last decade, there have been attempts to highlight to the general population the topic of stigma toward adults with mental illness. For instance, in his report, Surgeon General David Satcher spoke of the need to recognize stigma as a barrier within the field of mental health. In fact, it was suggested that mental health care could not be improved without the eradication of mental health stigma (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999).

In addition, stigma is a barrier to recovery for adults diagnosed with a mental illness (Link et al., 2001; Perlick, 2001; Perlick et al., 2001; Sirey et al., 2001). A number of negative consequences of stigma related to mental illness, both internal and external, have been highlighted in the literature. Internal consequences include a decrease in self-esteem and an increase in shame, fear, and avoidance (Byrne, 2000; Corrigan, 2004; Link et al., 2001; Perlick et al., 2001). External consequences of stigma include exclusion, discrimination, prejudice, stereotyping from others, and social distance (Byrne, 2000; Corrigan, 2004; Link et al., 2004). Furthermore, adults who experience stigma are more inclined to be noncompliant with recommended mental health care and prescribed medications (Sirey et al., 2001). Researchers have found that persons diagnosed with a mental illness were more likely to adhere to a medication regimen when they perceived lower levels of stigma associated with their mental illness and to discontinue medication when they feared stigmatization from others (Sirey et al., 2001).

Unfortunately, stigma toward adults with mental illness originates not only from the general population but also from mental health professionals. Authors (Lauber et al., 2004; Nordt, Rossler, & Lauber, 2006) have warned that it would be simplistic to assume that mental health professionals have more positive attitudes toward adults with mental illness than does the general public. These authors urged mental health professionals to investigate more closely their attitudes toward people with mental illness. Early researchers hypothesized that stigma originates from feelings of helplessness and futility among mental health professionals (N. Cohen, 1990). …