["...not dangerous, but nevertheless frightening". A program against stigmatization of schizophrenia in schools]

U Meise, H Sulzenbacher, G Kemmler, R Schmid, W Rössler, V Günther
Psychiatrische Praxis 2000, 27 (7): 340-6

OBJECTIVE: Evaluation of a brief school programme providing information about schizophrenia to high school students. It was investigated whether the programme changed the students' attitude towards this target group and whether information given by a patient affects the results.

METHODS: 114 high school students (6 school classes) took part in the programme: 57 students were informed by a psychiatrist and an afflicted person (group A), the other 57 were informed by a psychiatrist and a social worker (group B). The students' attitude towards schizophrenics was assessed using a vignette of a fictitious class-mate suffering from schizophrenia (according to DSM criteria) and by questionnaires assessing the students' emotional and cognitive reactions and their social distance towards the person described by the vignette.

RESULTS: Only in group A (psychiatrist and afflicted) there was a significant improvement regarding the emotional reaction (reduction of fear, increase in positive emotions) and a significant decrease in social distance. Moreover, students no longer associated psychiatric illness with being "crazy". In group B (psychiatrist and social worker) these changes could not be observed. There was even a significant increase in describing patients with schizophrenia as dangerous.

CONCLUSION: As high school students themselves consider their level of knowledge about psychiatric illness as low, information about this topic should be given more attention than is currently done (also from a preventive point of view). For such information to be effective and to affect students' attitudes positively, it appears necessary that students have the opportunity to get in contact with a person affected by psychiatric illness. For changing attitudes it is also essential how information is presented.

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