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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Continuum beliefs and stigmatising beliefs about mental illness: results from an Asian community survey

Mythily Subramaniam, Edimansyah Abdin, Louisa Picco, Shazana Shahwan, Anitha Jeyagurunathan, Janhavi Ajit Vaingankar, Siow Ann Chong
BMJ Open 2017 April 5, 7 (4): e014993
28381420

OBJECTIVES: To establish the prevalence and correlates of continuum beliefs for five mental illnesses in a multiethnic population and to explore its association with stigma.

DESIGN: A community-based, cross-sectional study.

SETTING: A national study in a multiethnic Asian country.

PARTICIPANTS: A comprehensive study of 3006 Singapore residents (Singapore citizens and permanent residents) aged 18-65 years who were living in Singapore at the time of the survey.

OUTCOME MEASURES: Parameters assessed included belief in a continuum of symptom experience, stigma dimensions and causal beliefs in mental illness. Statistical analyses included descriptive statistics and multiple linear regression (MLR).

RESULTS: About half of the population indicated agreement with a continuum of symptoms for depression (57.9%) and dementia (46.8%), whereas only about one in three respondents agreed with it for alcohol abuse (35.6%), schizophrenia (32.7%) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) (36.8%). MLR analyses revealed that students (β=0.28; 95% CI 0.05 to 0.50; p=0.018) and those who were unemployed (β=0.60; 95% CI 0.26 to 0.95; p=0.001) (vs employed) as well as those who had previous contact with people with mental illness (β = 0.31; 95% CI 0.18 to 0.45; p<0.001) and believed stress, family arguments, difficulties at work or financial difficulties to be a cause for mental illness (β=0.43; 95% CI 0.13 to 0.73; p=0.005) were associated with a higher belief in a continuum of symptom experience. Continuum beliefs were related to lower desire for social distance in alcohol abuse, OCD and schizophrenia; however, they were associated with higher scores on 'weak-not-sick' stigma dimension in dementia and schizophrenia.

CONCLUSIONS: Perceiving that a person with a mental illness is similar to themselves may reduce social distancing by the public. Thus, the approach may lend itself well to public education aimed at reducing stigma.

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