Gender Effect on Attitudes towards the Mentally Ill: A Survey of Turkish University Students

Article excerpt

Abstract: This study investigates gender-associated characteristics of attitudes towards the mentally ill in a large sample of Turkish university students. Factors associated with gender variation were also analyzed. Materials and methods: Student's t-test and linear regression analyses of the results of a vignette-based opinion survey conducted on a sample of final-year Turkish university students (n=700) were performed. The survey consisted of the following: the "Dangerousness Scale," "Characteristics Scale," "Skill Assessment Scale," "Social Distance Scale," "Affective Reaction Scale" and a socio-demographic questionnaire. Results: The results showed a statistically significant difference between female and male respondents with regard to their answers to the questions on the "Dangerousness Scale," "Characteristics Scale" and the "Skill Assessment Scale." In all of these three scales, female respondents showed a less stigmatizing attitude than the male respondents. This gender effect continued after controlling for the subjects' age and family income. In female respondents, parents' level of education and a more positive attitude about treatment of mental illness predicted less stigmatizing attitudes towards mental illness. Conclusions: The findings suggest that gender difference in this sample has an impact on the stigmatization phenomenon in an independent fashion. A more positive view of female university students towards the mentally ill might be due to their comparatively optimistic attitudes about the treatability of mental illnesses. The observed gender difference seems to be accentuated by the fact that female students' parents' level of education was higher than that of their male counterparts.

Introduction

Stigma has been identified by professionals as a key issue in mental illness (1, 2). Stigmatizing attitudes may inhibit help seeking among individuals with a mental disorder (3, 4), provide barriers to their successful reintegration into society (5), and increase their psychological distress (6).

Previous research findings on gender and stigma have been mixed. In an early review by Farina, the author summarized results of community surveys conducted before the 1980s in the United States, with a conclusion that males and females tended not to differ in their overall attitudes towards individuals with mental illness (7). Literature on community attitudes towards the mentally ill demonstrated a sudden surge in the following years. Only recently stigma has been depicted as different dimensions of attitudes, not always consistently correlated with each other. Among these stigmadependent measures employed with success in previous research are the questionnaires that separately address the subn r ; jects social avoidance ofcontact with the patient; the ; r subjects beliefs about whether persons with mental ; r illness are likeh/ to be dangerous to others; the sub" Ject's rePorted affective reaction t0 being acq"ainted with the Patient; the subJect's view of the Patient's de" gree of blame and responsibility for his/her disease and a measure of the subJect's opinion on the Pa" tient's social skills (8). Specific stud>r of these dimen" sions might lead to a better understanding of the nature of stigma>aUowing for development of effective community de-stigmatization programs.

In this study, we investigated the influence of gender on characteristics of stigmatizing attitudes by use of stigma-dependent measures in a large survey of Turkish undergraduate university students. We sought to test the hypothesis of whether gender should be considered in the analysis of study results on stigma, and to identify which factors might be associated with the gender effect.

Materials and Methods

We recruited 700 final-year students from the Management and Economics Faculty of the University of Marmara, Istanbul, Turkey. Their mean ages were 22.2±1.8 (range: 18-32 years). Mean ages for females and males were 21. …