Attitudes towards people with a mental disorder: a survey of the Australian public and health professionals

Authors


Anthony. F. Jorm Deputy Director (correspondence)

Abstract

Objective: The aim of this paper was to compare the Australian public’s attitudes towards people who have been treated for a mental disorder with the attitudes of general practitioners, psychiatrists and clinical psychologists.

Method: The study involved a household survey of 2031 members of the Australian public and a postal survey of 872 general practitioners, 1128 psychiatrists and 454 clinical psychologists. Survey participants were presented with a vignette describing a person with schizophrenia or one with depression. They were asked opinions about the person’s long-term outcome in various areas of life after receiving treatment. Participants were also asked whether they thought the person described would be discriminated against by others.

Results: Both the public and professionals rated outcomes as poorer and discrimination as more likely for the person with schizophrenia than for the one with depression. The professionals made more negative ratings than the public, although the clinical psychologists had similar attitudes to the public about depression.

Conclusions: Compared to the public, health professionals rate long-term outcomes more negatively and discrimination as more likely. It is possible that these more negative attitudes are realistic, being based on greater knowledge of mental disorders. However, professional attitudes may be biased by greater contact with patients who have chronic or recurrent disorders. Either way, health professionals need to be aware of the effects that their negative attitudes might have on patients and the public.

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