The relationship of causal beliefs and contact with users of mental health services to attitudes to the 'mentally ill'

Int J Soc Psychiatry. Autumn 1999;45(3):216-29. doi: 10.1177/002076409904500309.


Programmes to destigmatise 'mental illness' have traditionally been based on the 'mental illness is an illness like any other' metaphor and have been largely unsuccessful. By measuring attitudes towards, and etiology beliefs about, 'mental illness' before and after a series of four undergraduate lectures presenting the psychosocial causes of, and solutions to, severe mental health problems, this study (a) replicated previous studies demonstrating a relationship between biogenetic causal beliefs and negative attitudes towards 'mental patients'; (b) found that following the lectures attitudes improved, particularly around the key variables of dangerousness and unpredictability; and (c) demonstrated that amount of contact with people who had received psychiatric treatment was an even stronger predictor of positive attitudes than acceptance of a psychosocial perspective.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / etiology*
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • New Zealand
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Surveys and Questionnaires