COMPARATIVE STUDY
JOURNAL ARTICLE
RANDOMIZED CONTROLLED TRIAL

[Communicate instead of stigmatizing - does social contact with a depressed person change attitudes of medical students towards psychiatric disorders? A study of attitudes of medical students to psychiatric patients]

Manuela Schenner, Daniela Kohlbauer, Verena Günther
Neuropsychiatrie: Klinik, Diagnostik, Therapie und Rehabilitation 2011, 25 (4): 199-207
22136942

OBJECTIVE: The aim of the present study was to investigate how attitudes to psychiatric patients of medical students change, when given an opportunity to have social contact with a depressed individual, during their usual psychiatric practical.

METHODS: In the course of their compulsory practical at the University Clinic for General and Social Psychiatry, 127 students additionally participated in an information session in which a person suffering from depression reported on his/her life, illness and experiences with the illness. The control group comprised 98 students who did only the psychiatry practical. Both at the beginning and end of the practical, students filled in a questionnaire, among others, on cognitive and affective dimensions and social distance. The questionnaire was preceded by 4 different case vignettes describing a fictional person (a man/woman suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and a man/woman suffering from unipolar depression).

RESULTS: The results of our study show that before students took their practical, female students felt more pro-social and socially closer, but at the same time more fearful, in relation to mentally ill persons than male students. Females also considered psychiatric illnesses as better treatable than males. Basically, students felt socially closer towards depressed persons than towards schizophrenic patients who were also perceived to be more severely ill, more dangerous and more unpredictable. Students with personal contact with a female depressed patient during their practical demonstrated significant reduction of social distance and fear in relation to depressed persons, and in the sense of a generalization effect, there was also a significant reduction in their assessment of the danger and unpredictability of schizophrenic patients. As against this, students who did only their compulsory practical developed an even stronger stereotype of schizophrenic patients as being dangerous and unpredictable. Additionally, contact with a depressed person during practical resulted in a better assessment of the treatability of this illness. Students who participated in the compulsory practical alone reduced their fear towards depressed persons and increased prosocial feelings towards schizophrenic patients.

CONCLUSIONS: Compared to students who did only the psychiatry practical, additional contact with a depressed person resulted in major changes in attitude, in particular, in relation to the stereotype of schizophrenic patients being "dangerous". Thus, enabling direct contact with patients during psychiatry practical represents a meaningful and effective anti-stigma intervention.

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