A Contagious Other? Exploring the Public's Appraisals of Contact with 'Mental Illness'

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Mar 18;17(6):2005. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17062005.


Mental illness has recurrently been found to be Othered by the lay public, although few researchers have examined the affective and implicit processes involved. To explore this, we triangulated facial electromyography (EMG), self-reports, and individual interview data, finding participants to Other mental illness, a process that involved disgust, fear and pity. Furthermore, mental illness was considered to have the potential to permeate, posing a contagious threat. This research highlights the need to fully explore the forms of understanding, which maintain mental-health related stigma, including beliefs about contamination, and the implications this may have for the design of anti-stigma campaigns.

Keywords: affect; contact theory; embodied cognition; implicit stigma; mental illness; mixed-methods; public understanding of science; risk perception; social representations.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Fear
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders*
  • Mental Health
  • Social Stigma*
  • Young Adult