Stigmatization towards the mentally ill: Perceptions of psychiatrists, pre-clinical and post-clinical rotation medical students

Hendri-Charl Eksteen, Piet J Becker, Gian Lippi
International Journal of Social Psychiatry 2017, 63 (8): 782-791

BACKGROUND: Stigma towards the mentally ill is a well-known phenomenon and it is not restricted to certain communities or countries. Stigma, be it self-stigma or public stigma, has a major influence in mental health care.

AIM: The aim of this study was to determine whether stigmatizing attitudes towards the mentally ill differ according to the level of knowledge about psychiatric illnesses and whether the level of exposure towards the mentally ill plays a role in stigmatizing attitudes.

METHOD: This study was carried out by assessing psychiatrists ( n = 68), pre-clinical ( n = 194) and post-clinical ( n = 354) medical students' attitudes towards the mentally ill using the Mental Illness: Clinicians' Attitudes (MICA) scale. The scale is scored on a Likert scale with higher scores indicating higher levels of stigmatization.

RESULTS: Participants in the three groups had statistical significant different levels of stigma with a decline in scores as you are more exposed to psychiatry. Familiarity with mental illness was associated with less stigma. Participants who had friends or family members who suffered from mental illness or they themselves suffered from a mental illness had less stigma.

CONCLUSION: More exposure to mental health-related issues are needed not only in communities but also in medical schools. Medical students need to be targeted for educational intervention because they are the future doctors who might pursue psychiatry as their field of choice. Stigma against psychiatry as a medical profession should also be addressed. If psychiatry is to be respected as a medical profession, mental illness-related stigma interventions need to be put in place to raise awareness about the negative impact of stigma.

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