Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Does Social Group Status Influence Social Distance in Relation to Depression?

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Does Social Group Status Influence Social Distance in Relation to Depression?

Article excerpt

It is widely assumed that Maori and non-Maori have disparate views of mental health. Using the mental health literacy framework, a survey questionnaire was mailed to a random sample of 500 people selected from both the General and Maori electoral rolls. A total of 205 completed questionnaires were received which included 115 from non-Maori and 90 from Maori. Participants were required to respond to a vignette describing a fictional character experiencing a major depressive disorder. Our findings indicated no significant differences between Maori and non-Maori respondents regarding problem identification, quality of life impacted, social distance judgements, and the relationship between degree of familiarity with mental illness and desired social distance. Implications of these findings are discussed in relation to destigmatisation of mental health campaigns in the public health field.

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There has been widespread interest in the social experiences of those with mental illness (Angermeyer & Matschinger, 1996; Holmes & River, 1998; Markowitz, 2001). Much of this interest has centred on the issue of social stigma, and in particular the negative influence of stigmatisation on the life experiences of individuals with a mental disorder (Sartorius, 1999; Ben-Porath, 2002). The main conclusion drawn in the literature is that psychiatric stigma can significantly impair quality of life across a range of social domains for those who experience mental ill health (Roman & Floyd, 1981; Rosenfield, 1997; Link, Phelan, Bresnahan, Stueve & Pescosolido, 1999; Phelan, Link, Stueve & Pescosolido, 2000; Jorm, Angermeyer & Katschnig, 2000). When we consider the adverse life experiences of those with mental illness in the context of the increasing prevalence of psychological disorders then it is necessary that we delineate the attributes mentally ill persons are believed to possess, which lead them to convey a negative social identity (Major & Crocker, 1993; Hayward & Bright, 1997; Crocker, Major & Steele, 1998; Neugebauer, 1999; Kurzban & Leary, 2001; Haghighat, 2001).

In pursuit of this objective one particularly fertile line of inquiry has been the ongoing investigation of beliefs held by lay members of the public about psychopathology (Rabkin, 1974; Furnham, 1988; Angermeyer, Matschinger & Riedel-Heller, 1999; Jorm, 2000). With reference to psychiatric stigma a more refined focus has been directed at lay evaluative judgements of mentally ill targets as they relate to social distance. Social distance is best understood as a proxy measure for eliciting discriminatory attitudes toward persons with mental illness (Corrigan, Edwards, Green, Diwan, and Penn, 2001). Notwithstanding the different explanatory theories forwarded regarding the function of stigma (see Hayward & Bright, 1997; Crocker et al. 1998; Haghighat, 2001; Kurzban & Leafy, 2001), measures of social distance are assumed to inform on the relationship between attitudes and likely behaviour exhibited toward targets experiencing mental illness. Underlying the measure of social distance is the assumption that behaviours symptomatic of mental illness prompt affective reactions such as rejection, acceptance, and ambivalence from members of the public (Roman and Floyd, 1981; Crocker et al. 1998).

It is important to note that the range of factors believed to influence social distance ought to be differentiated between perceived attributes of the target and those possessed by the perceiver. Of principal interest to the present research is that social group status of perceivers is commonly cited as influencing quality of social distance appraisals (e.g., Littlewood, 1998; Corrigan, Edwards, Green, Diwan & Penn, 2001).

Ethnicity and nation of origin are frequently cited as proxy categorical cultural groupings equivalent to social group status (Fabrega, 1991; Pote & Orrell, 2002; Angermeyer, Buyantugs, Kenzine & Matschinger, 2004). …

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