Public attitudes toward the mentally ill : the relationship of type and severity of mental illness on subjects beliefs, social distance, and demographic variables
Past research on attitudes toward the mentally ill has produced conflicting results, due in part to methodological problems. The present study examined this issue using a more sophisticated design. Randomly, 600 residents of Delaware County Indiana were chosen from the telephone directory to be the recipients of a mail survey. Of these, 206 responded, yielding a return rate of 34.5%. Each subject was randomly assigned to either the experimental group that read a case vignette which described a hypothetical mental patient, or the control group which read about a medically ill patient. In both conditions there were three levels of severity of behavior. Thus, three cases described hypothetical patients labeled as mentally ill with a range of severity of psychopathology, and three described comparably behaving medical controls. It was found that the mentally ill were rejected significantly more than medical controls at each level of severity. Respondents also rated the mentally ill as less predictable, and having less hopeful outcomes, than the medical controls. In addition, beliefs about mental illness were not sufficient to account for all rejection. Finally, no demographic characteristics of the population were found to significantly correlate with rejection.