Factors Influencing Social Distance Toward People with Mental Illness
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Background: When identifying ways to reduce stigmatization because of mental illness it is crucial to understand contributing factors. Social distance—the willingness to engage in relationships of varying intimacy with a person—is an indicator of public attitudes toward persons with mental illness. Methods: Multiple linear regression analysis of the results of a vignette-based opinion survey conducted on a representative population sample in Switzerland (n = 594). Results: The level of social distance increases if situations imply ‘social closeness.’ The vignette describing a person with schizophrenia, attitudes to general aspects of mental health (lay helping, community psychiatry), emotions toward those affected, and the attitude toward consequences of mental illness (medical treatment, medication side effects, negative sanctions, e.g. withdrawal of the driver license) were found to predict social distance. Demographic factors such as age, gender, and the cultural background influence social distance. The explained variance (R2) is 44.8%. Conclusions: Social distance is a multifaceted concept influenced by, e.g., socio-economic and cultural factors, but also by the respondent's general attitude toward (mental) health issues. These results suggest that more knowledge about mental illnesses, especially schizophrenia, may increase social distance. The findings presented here may help to focus anti-stigma campaigns not only on transmission of knowledge, but on integrating different approaches.
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