The public's stigmatizing attitudes towards people with mental disorders: how important are biomedical conceptualizations?

A F Jorm, K M Griffiths
Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 2008, 118 (4): 315-21

OBJECTIVE: This study examined hypotheses that stigmatizing attitudes are increased by use of psychiatric labels, by conceptualization of symptoms as a medical illness and by belief in genetic causes.

METHOD: A survey of 3998 Australian adults asked questions about one of four vignettes: early schizophrenia, chronic schizophrenia, depression and depression with suicidal thoughts. Attitudes were measured by a social distance scale and a question about likely dangerousness.

RESULTS: Social distance was unrelated to the hypothesized factors. For schizophrenia (but not depression), belief in dangerousness was predicted by medical illness conceptualizations and genetic causal attribution. However, more important factors were the behaviours in the vignette and the belief that they are because of weakness of character.

CONCLUSION: Biomedical conceptualizations are not the major cause of stigma, rather it is the behaviour associated with mental illness and the belief that this is because of personal weakness.

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