The effect of personal experience with mental illness on the attitude towards individuals suffering from mental disorders
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Based on the results of two population surveys conducted in Germany during 1990 and 1993, we examined to what extent personal experience with mental illness might influence attitudes towards the mentally ill. Respondents familiar with mental illness displayed prosocial reactions more frequently than those without any personal experience. They also tended to react less fearfully. There were only small differences, if any, as far as the tendency to respond with aggression was concerned. People with personal experience tended less to adopt an antipathetic and distancing attitude towards individuals suffering from mental disorders. Our results are all the more persuasive as we were able to demonstrate this relationship between personal experience with and attitude towards mental illness for two independent samples. There were indications that personal exposure to mental illness exerts a positive influence on a person's attitude towards the disorder and that our findings were not merely the results of possible selection effects, that is to say, that individuals with a more positive attitude towards the mentally ill would have been more inclined to stay in touch with the latter, therefore having greater experience with mental illness.
KeywordsPublic Health Mental Disorder Mental Illness Small Difference Positive Attitude
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