Survey Shows That Adolescents Support Discrimination against the Mentally Ill

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NEW YORK -- A majority of high school students surveyed at five Midwestern schools supported discrimination against persons with mental illness, Dr. Stephanie A. Riolo said in a poster presentation at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.

Throughout adolescence, boys and girls are equally likely to report discrimination against persons with mental illness, but boys are statistically more likely to keep mental illness a secret.

The stigma of mental illness is widely acknowledged and past research suggests that attitudes about mental illness develop in early childhood, but no previous research has quantified the problem in adolescents, said Dr. Riolo of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

She and her associates surveyed 964 high school students in five Midwestern communities (two urban, two suburban, and one rural) using the Link Stigma Coping Scale (LSCS). The LSCS has two main subscales: secrecy (5 items, 6-point scale) and devaluation/discrimination (12 items, 6-point scale).

The mean age of the students was 15 years and 50.8% were male. The group was 56.5% white, 19.8% African American, and 23.7% other race/ethnicity.

More than 50% of the students surveyed said they believe patients with mental illness are less intelligent than average, and 45% would not accept a former mental patient as a friend. Only 35% of students would accept recovered mental health patients as teachers, and less than 10% would hire them to care for their children.

Perceived discrimination did not differ significantly by gender, race/ethnicity, or grade point average. Gender, however, was a strong factor in students' readiness to disclose treatment for mental illness. Adolescent males were statistically more likely than females to keep mental illness a secret, even as they got older. African American students were more likely to report a need to keep mental illness a secret. …