, Volume 38, Issue 5, pp 269-275

How psychiatric patients perceive the public's stereotype of mental illness

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Background: It is well established that the general public has devaluating attitudes towards psychiatric patients. In order to avoid rejection, many of these patients develop coping strategies, such as withdrawal and concealing their treatment history. These efforts are in themselves stressing, which might have negative consequences for the course of the disorder. It is not clear, however, how many and which patients do actually perceive the public's stereotype as threatening and, therefore, expect rejection. Method: Ninety psychiatric patients and a sample of 1042 persons of the Austrian general population were asked whether they agreed with five devaluating statements about mental patients contained in a questionnaire developed by Link et al. Matched pairs comparisons and multiple logistic regression were employed in order to find out whether patients agreed with these statements to the same extent as the general population did. Results: For the statements that most people believe that psychiatric patients are “less intelligent”, “less trustworthy” and “taken less seriously”, patients thought significantly less often than the general population that most people devalue mental patients. For two statements (“personal failure”, “think less of”) no difference was found. Conclusions: It seems that some psychiatric patients are less convinced than the general population that most people devalue psychiatric patients in specific respects; these patients might fear rejection less than other patients do. Those who actually fear rejection might need antistigma assistance more urgently than the first group.