Background: People with mental illness have been recognized as key stakeholders in the development of mental health education. However, few studies have evaluated the impact of people with mental illness as participants in education programs for students studying to become health professionals.
Objective: To assess the impact of education provided by mental health consumer-educators on the attitudes of pharmacy students toward people with mental illness.
Methods: The study used a 2 group, nonrandomized, clustered, comparative design, with 4 tutorial classes allocated to receive standard pharmacist-led instruction (comparison group), and 5 tutorial classes to receive standard pharmacist-led instruction plus additional input from mental health consumer-educators (intervention group). All pharmacy students (N = 229) enrolled in the third year of a 4 year pharmacy degree program were invited to participate. Consumer-educators receiving ongoing treatment for illnesses including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression participated in small-group work, case-study discussions, and role plays with pharmacy students in the intervention group. Pharmacy students' attitudes were assessed using a 39 item survey instrument derived from previously published instruments evaluating social distance, attribution, provision of pharmaceutical services, and stigmatization of people with schizophrenia and severe depression.
Results: Paired baseline and follow-up responses were obtained from 117 students in the intervention group and 94 students in the comparison group. Students who received the consumer intervention had decreased social distance scores (F(1209) = 5.30; p = 0.02). Students in the intervention group more strongly disagreed with 26 of 27 nonsocial distance statements that demonstrated a negative attitude toward people with mental illness (F(1209) = 13.58; p < 0.001) and more strongly agreed with all 4 nonsocial distance statements that demonstrated a positive attitude (F(1209) = 7.56; p = 0.014).
Conclusions: Consumer participation in mental health education for pharmacy students improves students' attitudes toward people with mental illness.