How to Combat the Social Stigma of Mental Illness

How to Combat the Social Stigma of Mental Illness
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University of Basel

University of Basel (click to view)

University of Basel

Society considers people with mental illnesses to be more dangerous than they are.

Scientists at the University of Basel and the University Psychiatric Clinics Basel have investigated the factors that influence social stigma. The journal Scientific Reports published the results.

People with mental illnesses suffer from severe social stigma. In addition to the actual symptoms of disease, societal discrimination leads to further conditions such as anxiety, stress and low self-esteem among those affected. People with such illnesses frequently avoid necessary treatment in order to escape the stigma.

Stigmatization of the mentally ill has many facets. One of the most important is that those affected are often perceived as more dangerous than they really are. Although a small number of mental illnesses can lead to a relatively increased risk of violence, most people with mental disorders are not violent.

Psychiatrists and psychologists at the University of Basel and the Psychiatric University Clinics Basel (UPK) have examined how dangerous the general public considers mentally ill people to be and which factors influence this perception. “We want to understand whether the stigma arises from noticing symptoms or from finding out that somebody has had psychiatric treatment,” says Professor Christian Huber.

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To this end, they surveyed 10,000 people in the canton of Basel Stadt. The respondents had to estimate how dangerous they considered people in a number of fictional case histories to be. Half of the cases portrayed symptoms of various mental illnesses (alcohol dependency, psychosis, borderline personality disorder), while the others reported on the location where psychiatric treatment took place (general hospital with psychiatric wards, psychiatric hospital, psychiatric hospital with forensic wards).

In the case histories describing only the location of the treatment, as well as in those featuring a description of symptoms and behavioral problems, the patients were generally regarded as dangerous.

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