Objective: Stigma is a significant impediment to the successful treatment of individuals with mental illness, especially among racial minority groups. Although limited, the literature suggests that African Americans are more likely than Caucasians to believe that people with mental illnesses are dangerous. The authors reexamined this issue and assessed whether racial differences also extend to beliefs about how people with mental illness should be treated if violent.
Methods: A nationally representative probability sample of 1,241 respondents participated in a telephone survey. The analysis focused on the 81 African-American and 590 Caucasian respondents who participated in a vignette experiment about a person with schizophrenia or major depressive disorder. The authors analyzed respondents' perceptions that the person would be violent, as well as their attitudes about blame and punishment.
Results: African Americans were more likely than Caucasians to believe that individuals with schizophrenia or major depression would do something violent to other people. At the same time they were less likely to believe these individuals should be blamed and punished for violent behavior. These racial differences were not attributable to sociodemographic factors.
Conclusions: The study found racial differences in stigmatizing attitudes toward individuals with mental illness; however, African Americans' negative perception did not necessarily result in endorsement of harsher treatment of mentally ill persons. This study highlights the complexity of the stigma process and emphasizes the need to consider racial differences in developing interventions targeted to improve public attitudes.