Changing attitudes of high school students towards peers with mental health problems

Milica Pejović-Milovancević, Dusica Lecić-Tosevski, Lazar Tenjović, Smiljka Popović-Deusić, Saveta Draganić-Gajić
Psychiatria Danubina 2009, 21 (2): 213-9

BACKGROUND: Stigma refers to the undesirable characteristics linked to mental illness and the adverse cognitive and behavioral consequences. Stigma causes a spiral of alienation and discrimination, leading to social isolation that diminishes chances for recovery. There is a great need for antistigma programs in order to decrease stigma related to persons with mental health problems. The antistigma program was initiated in schools of Serbia with the aim to address and decrease discrimination of adolescents with mental disorders.

SUBJECTS AND METHODS: Sixty-three students from high schools voluntarily participated in the program. The effect of the program on the attitudes of students was evaluated by the Opinion about Mental Illness Questionnaire given to adolescents prior to its implementation and six months afterwards.

RESULTS: Social discrimination and the tendency towards social restriction were reduced, while, at the same time, social awareness of mental health-related problems was increased among young people six months after program implementation. The results obtained clearly indicate positive changes in adolescents' attitudes and demonstrate a need for further educational activities regarding stigma and mental disorders.

CONCLUSION: Stigma and discrimination reduction programs for adolescents are aimed at achieving a change of their attitudes toward the mental health problems of their peers and themselves through organized education. Our program demonstrates the necessity for youth participation in mental health services and system, and antistigma actions are seen as important aspects.

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