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Mental Illness Stigma and Causal Beliefs: Among Potential Mental Health Professionals

Authors: Josephine S. Larkings, Patricia M. Brown


Mental health professionals views about mental illness is an important issue which has not received enough attention. The negative stigma associated with mental illness can have many negative consequences. Unfortunately, health professionals working with the mentally ill can also exhibit stigma. It has been suggested that causal explanations or beliefs around the causes of mental illness may influence stigma. This study aims to gain a greater insight into stigma through examining stigma among potential mental health professionals. Firstly, results found that potential mental health professionals had relatively low social distance t(205) = -3.62, p <.001. Secondly, an ANOVA indicated that the participants endorsed some causal beliefs more than others, F(1.82, 311.55) = 88.47, p < .001, partial n2 = .34. Moreover, participants endorsed the biological causal explanation the most. Thirdly, results indicated that combined contact (quality and quantity) and causal beliefs (biological, psychological, and environmental) explained a significant proportion of the variance in stigma, R2 = .35, adjusted R2 = .33, F(5, 153) = 16.66, p < .001. Quality of contact was the strongest predictor, with greater quality of contact associated with lower desired social distance. Also, quantity of contact, psychological and environmental causal explanations were also significant predictors of stigma. Greater quantity of contact and higher levels of environmental causal beliefs were associated with lower levels of stigma while psychological causal explanations were associated with higher levels of stigma. A series of multiple regression analyses were conducted that showed the three causal beliefs had different impacts on four factors of stigma (Authoritarian, Benevolence, Social restrictiveness, and Community mental health ideology). These analyses showed that psychological causal beliefs had the most positive impact. More research is required on this topic as it has important implications to the treatment and recovery for people suffering from mental illness.

Keywords: Social Distance, Contact, health professionals, Causal beliefs, mental illness stigma

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