Student nurses and the general population in Sweden: trends in attitudes towards mental illness

Béatrice Ewalds-Kvist, Torbjörn Högberg, Kim Lützén
Nordic Journal of Psychiatry 2013, 67 (3): 164-70

OBJECTIVE: To evaluate attitudes towards mental illness displayed by student nurses' with previous contact with mentally disordered persons prior to education in psychiatric nursing and to evaluate trends in attitudes towards mental illness exhibited by student nurses and the public in Sweden.

METHODS: Altogether 246 student nurses enrolled in three universities in Sweden (mean age = 27.9 ± 7.5 years) out of which 210 were females and 36 males, completed prior to their obligatory course in psychiatric nursing a shortened version of 11 internally reliable (Cronbach's alpha 0.84) items from the Swedish version of the Community Attitudes towards Mental Illness questionnarie. The selected items were named the Student Nurse Attitude Index (SNAI) and formed the basis for an evaluation of trends exhibited by student nurses and the attitudes of the general population towards mental illness by means of Jonkheere's trend test. By linear regression analysis, the impact of previous contact with mental illness on student nurses' attitudes towards mental illness prior to education in psychiatric nursing was assessed.

RESULTS: Student nurses did not demonstrate, in contrast to the public in Sweden, a trend of positive attitudes toward persons with mental illness. Even so, it was revealed that student nurses who had experienced some type of contact with mental illness prior to education in psychiatric nursing exhibited a positive attitude, more so than those lacking contact, toward mental illness.

CONCLUSIONS: The findings corroborated the "contact hypothesis", implying that direct contact with persons with mental illness will encourage acceptance and enhance a positive attitude towards mental illness in general.

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