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Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 46 (3): 245-252 (2001)

Community attitudes toward people with schizophrenia

H Stuart , J Arboleda-Florez
Objective: We surveyed public attitudes toward people with schizophrenia as part of a pilot project for the World Psychiatric Association's Global Campaign to Fight Stigma and Discrimination Because of Schizophrenia. Methods: We conducted random-digit telephone surveys with 1653 respondents (aged 15 years or over) residing in 2 adjacent rural and urban health regions (71.9% response rate). A brief interview collected information on experiences with people with a mental illness or schizophrenia, knowledge of causes and treatments for schizophrenia, and levels of social distance felt toward people with schizophrenia. Results: One-half of the sample had known someone treated for schizophrenia or another mental illness. Of those able to identify a cause of schizophrenia (two-thirds), most identified a biological cause, usually a brain disease. Social distance increased with the level of intimacy required. One in 5 respondents thought they would be unable to maintain a friendship with, one-half would be unable to room with, and three-quarters would be unable to marry, someone with schizophrenia. Those over 60 were least knowledgeable or enlightened and the most socially distancing. Greater knowledge was associated with less-distancing attitudes. When other factors were controlled, exposure to the mentally ill was not correlated with knowledge or attitudes, even among those who had worked in agencies providing services to the mentally ill. Conclusions: Most respondents were relatively well informed and progressive in their reported understanding of schizophrenia and its treatment. Clear subgroup differences were apparent with respect to age and knowledge. Knowledge of schizophrenia, not exposure to the mentally ill, was a central modifiable correlate of stigma.
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