Labeling—stereotype—discrimination. An investigation of the stigma process

Matthias C Angermeyer, Herbert Matschinger
Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 2005, 40 (5): 391-5

AIM: Using Link and Phelan's concept of the stigma process, public attitudes towards people with schizophrenia are examined.

METHOD: In the spring of 2001, a representative population survey was conducted in Germany (n=5025). A fully structured personal interview was carried out, beginning with the presentation of a case vignette.

RESULTS: Labeling as mental illness increased the likelihood that someone suffering from schizophrenia was considered as being unpredictable and dangerous. This, in turn, led to an increase of the preference for social distance. Although much weaker, labeling also had a positive effect on public attitudes insofar as it was associated with a decrease of the tendency to attribute the responsibility for the occurrence of the disorder to the afflicted person. However, this had no significant impact on the desire for social distance. There was no significant association between labeling and the anticipation of poor prognosis. There were some differences between respondents who are familiar with mental illness and those who are not.

CONCLUSION: Our findings have some implications for the planning of interventions aimed at reducing stigma and discrimination because of schizophrenia. These interventions should primarily address the stereotypes of unpredictability and dangerousness since they are most likely to have a negative impact on the public's willingness to engage in social relationships with those suffering from this disorder. The interventions should also be tailored according to whether the target population is familiar with mental illness or not.

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