Patterns of social distance towards people suffering from schizophrenia in Austria: a comparison between the general public, relatives and mental health staff


W. Wolfgang Fleischhacker, Department of Biological Psychiatry, Medical University Innsbruck, Anichstr. 35, A-6020 Innsbruck, Austria.


Objective:  The aims of this study were to identify the different aspects of the attitudes towards people suffering from schizophrenia and to find factors influencing these attitudes – especially the willingness to contact people suffering from schizophrenia – as well as to obtain information on how to reduce stigma and discrimination.

Method:  We conducted a study to investigate these attitudes in Austria. A representative sample of the general public, different professional groups working in the field and relatives of mentally ill people were interviewed. The public, relatives and people working in the mental health field were asked a number of the same questions, to allow for comparisons between groups.

Results:  We found great differences in key dimensions of the attitude towards people suffering from schizophrenia between groups: these included different causal attributions to schizophrenia, different attitudes concerning the perceived success of the treatment of schizophrenia, different fears concerning perceived dangerousness and a different willingness to interact voluntarily with schizophrenia patients.

Conclusion:  The factors influencing the distance towards people suffering from schizophrenia differ between groups. Our findings should help to optimize campaigns fighting against stigma and discrimination.