Evaluation of mental health stigma on medical education: an observational study with Portuguese medical students

Porto Biomed J. 2020 Jul 17;5(4):e074. doi: 10.1097/j.pbj.0000000000000074. eCollection Jul-Aug 2020.

Abstract

Background: The Portuguese mental health care plan emphasizes that health care professionals can be a source of stigma against people with mental illness enhancing self-stigma and leading to a decrease in the search for help and adherence to treatment.

Methods: In this exploratory study, we surveyed 111 first and last year students from the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Porto, Portugal, using the Portuguese version of the Attribution Questionnaire AQ-27 to assess the attitudes toward mental illness.

Results: The students showed a significant difference in the segregation dimension, and in some items related with pity and coercion in the end of the course. These results express a positive will to integrate people with mental illness in community, a decrease of pity and a valorization of the pharmacological treatment in this kind of disease. The previous personal experience of psychiatric problems decreases the level of segregation and psychological problems increase the motivation to help.

Conclusion: Final-year students express more positive and less discriminatory attitudes toward people with severe mental illness than first-year students. This is likely due to education and contact opportunities promoted throughout the medical school, as well as due to the experience of having gone to a psychology or psychiatric consultation. Knowledge of stigma levels of future medical doctors is therefore crucial for the prevention of attitudes that could condition the provision of medical care.

Keywords: medical students; mental illness; social stigma.