Psychiatric labels and other influences on young people's stigmatizing attitudes: Findings from an Australian national survey

Marie Bee Hui Yap, Nicola Reavley, Andrew James Mackinnon, Anthony Francis Jorm
Journal of Affective Disorders 2013, 148 (2): 299-309

BACKGROUND: Stigma is a major impediment to help seeking for mental disorders by young people. To reduce stigma and improve help seeking, a better understanding of the influences on different components of stigma for different disorders is required.

METHODS: In 2011, a telephone interview was conducted with a national sample of 2522 Australians aged 15-25 years. Participants were presented with a vignette of a young person portraying either depression, depression with suicidal thoughts, social phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder or psychosis. They were then asked what they thought was wrong with the person, exposure to mental health problems in themselves and in family or friends, stigmatizing attitudes, and their awareness of beyondblue.

RESULTS: Accurate psychiatric labeling of the mental disorder presented in the vignette and beyondblue awareness were the best predictors of less stigmatizing attitudes, followed closely by exposure to family or friends with mental health problems. Across vignettes, the personally held stigmatizing perception of mental health problems as a weakness rather than an illness was most strongly associated with these predictors.

LIMITATIONS: Stigma and labeling were assessed with reference to a vignette character and may not reflect actual experience or behaviors. Other limitations include the cross-sectional design and potential for social desirability bias in the stigma measure.

CONCLUSIONS: Findings suggest that community awareness campaigns (such as those by beyondblue) that encourage appropriate close contact with others affected by mental health problems and improved accurate psychiatric label use may have potential to counter various aspects of stigma, especially personal beliefs that mental illness is a weakness.

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