Academic journal article South African Journal of Psychiatry

Attitudes of Undergraduates towards Mental Illness: A Comparison between Nursing and Business Management Students in India

Academic journal article South African Journal of Psychiatry

Attitudes of Undergraduates towards Mental Illness: A Comparison between Nursing and Business Management Students in India

Article excerpt

Worldwide, despite growing evidence of the importance of mental health for economic, social and human capital, people with mental health problems, mental health services and professionals, and even the very concept of mental health, receive negative publicity and are stigmatised in public perceptions. [1-3] Today, the focus of psychiatric care is on de-institutionalisation: this depends on a number of key conditions, of which tolerance and non-discrimination are among the most important. [4]

As in other parts of the world, the prevalence of mental disorders in India is high. [5] It is estimated that at least 58/1 000 Indians have a mental illness and about 10 million suffer from severe mental illness. [6-8] In India, 90% of people with psychiatric illnesses live with their families, and opinion about mental illness plays a vital role in their long-term care within the family and community. Further, a positive attitude towards mental illness is a prerequisite for the provision of holistic care. [9] However, persistent negative attitudes and the social rejection of people with mental illness have prevailed throughout history. [10] Studies show that people with mental illness face widespread stigmatisation, discrimination, violence, neglect and avoidance, and that negative attitudes towards them are widespread among the general public. [11-15] Lack of awareness about mental illness encourages discrimination and stigmatisation. [16] However, cross-sectional studies show that members of the public who have more knowledge about mental illness are less likely to endorse stigmatising attitudes. [5]

Every section of society has its unique way of perceiving mental illness, particularly the young generation and college-going students. Colleges may be the best place to develop a comprehensive mental health programme, because the attitude and values of college-going students tend to influence society the most. [17] Thus, understanding the attitudes and beliefs about people with mental illness among undergraduate students is a fundamental step in addressing the negative attitudes so often reported in studies. [15] A handful of studies have explored the attitudes among healthcare students and the effectiveness of training programmes. [18] However, limited research is available regarding students' attitudes towards mental illness. Hence, the current study specifically aimed to examine the differences in attitudes towards mental illness of undergraduates studying nursing and those studying towards a Bachelor of Business Management (BBM). Because BBM students do not receive knowledge about the mental illness through clinical experience or course curriculum, it was hypothesised that a difference would be found between their attitudes and those of nursing students.


The study was carried out among undergraduate women from selected colleges of nursing and graduate women's colleges in Bangalore, India from April to June 2011.


A non-probability convenience sample with a quantitative descriptive method was used. Selection criteria for participants required that they be nursing or BBM students in the third year and fourth year of their course and willing to participate. There were no exclusion criteria. A total of 288 students were enrolled in the study, but 20 questionnaires were subsequently discarded as they were incomplete. Hence, 268 completed questionnaires (148 nursing students and 120 BBM students) were analysed.


Demographic data survey instrument

The demographic form elicited information on five aspects of the participants' background: age, family's monthly income, place of residence, and history of personal contact with mental illness.


The Attitude Scale for Mental Illness (ASMI) [19] is a valid and reliable self-report that measures respondents' attitude to mental illness. It uses 34 items divided into six broad conceptual sub-scales:

* Benevolence, or paternalistic and sympathetic views

* Separatism, or attitude to discrimination

* Stereotyping, or the degree of social distance maintained from the mentally ill

* Restrictiveness, or perception of the mentally ill as a threat to society

* Pessimistic prediction, or level of prejudice towards mental illness

* Stigmatisation, or discriminatory behaviour towards those with mental illness. …

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