Background: The stigma of mental illness among medical students is a prevalent concern that has far reaching negative consequences. Attempts to combat this stigma through educational initiatives have had mixed results. This study examined the impact of a one-time contact-based educational intervention on the stigma of mental illness among medical students and compared this with a multimodal undergraduate psychiatry course at the University of Calgary, Canada that integrates contact-based educational strategies. Attitudes towards mental illness were compared with those towards type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM).
Method: A cluster-randomized trial design was used to evaluate the impact of contact-based educational interventions delivered at two points in time. The impact was assessed by collecting data at 4 time points using the Opening Minds Scale for Health Care Providers (OMS-HC) to assess changes in stigma.
Results: Baseline surveys were completed by 62% (n=111) of students before the start of the course and post-intervention ratings were available from 90 of these. Stigma scores for both groups were significantly reduced upon course completion (p < 0.0001), but were not significantly changed following the one-time contact based educational intervention in the primary analysis. Student confidence in working with people with a mental illness and interest in a psychiatric career was increased at the end of the course. Stigma towards mental illness remained greater than for T2DM at all time points.
Conclusions: Psychiatric education can decrease the stigma of mental illness and increase student confidence. However, one-time, contact-based educational interventions require further evaluation in this context. The key components are postulated to be contact, knowledge and attention to process, where attending to the student's internal experience of working with people with mental illness is an integral factor in modulating perceptions of mental illness and a psychiatric career.