Stigmatizing attitudes towards people with mental disorders: findings from an Australian National Survey of Mental Health Literacy and Stigma

Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2011 Dec;45(12):1086-93. doi: 10.3109/00048674.2011.621061. Epub 2011 Oct 24.


Objective: This paper reports findings from a national survey on stigmatizing attitudes towards people with depression, anxiety disorders and schizophrenia/psychosis.

Method: In 2011 telephone interviews were carried out with 6019 Australians aged 15 or over. Participants were presented with a case vignette describing either depression, depression with suicidal thoughts, early schizophrenia, chronic schizophrenia, social phobia or post-traumatic stress disorder. Questions were asked about stigmatizing attitudes, including perceptions of discrimination, personal and perceived stigma and desire for social distance.

Results: Chronic schizophrenia was most likely to be associated with dangerousness, unpredictability and a preference for not employing someone with the problem, while social phobia was most likely to be seen as due to personal weakness. Attitudes concerning dangerousness and social distance were greater in relation to men with mental disorders compared to women. Other people were perceived as more likely to hold stigmatizing attitudes than the respondents reported for themselves.

Conclusions: Anti-stigma interventions are more likely to be successful if they focus on individual disorders rather than on 'mental illness' in general. Such interventions may need to address perceptions of social phobia as being due to weakness and those of dangerousness in people with more severe disorders. Such interventions should also focus on bringing beliefs about public perceptions in line with personal beliefs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Psychological Distance
  • Stereotyping*