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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Mental Illness Stigma

Q. I am investigating the nature and extent of mental illness-related stigma among medical students based on their knowledge and attitude toward mental illness and persons with mental illness. Are there reliable and validated scales that measure knowledge of cause, prevention, and treatment of mental illness?

A. You are examining an important issue. I can recall, from my own medical school days, the stigma associated not only with mental illness and those who suffer with it, but also with mental health care workers--those of us going into psychiatry were often viewed with a mixture of awe, suspicion, and derision, even by some faculty!

Some recent investigations suggest that education about mental illness can have a beneficial effect on such stigmatizing attitudes. For example, Mino et al studied the effects of a new 1-hour educational program on 95 first-year medical students' attitudes toward mental illness. Using a pre- and post-questionnaire design, they found that after the program, the students' attitudes toward mental illness and the mentally ill were more favorable (Psychiatry Clin Neurosci 2001 Oct;55(5):501-7). A number of standardized scales have been used in such studies; e.g., the Attitude to Psychiatry Questionnaire (ATP-30); the Attitude to Mental Illness Questionnaire (AMI) (see Singh et al, Med Educ 1998 Mar;32(2):115-20); and The Opinion about Mental Illness (OMI) questionnaire (see M. Keane, Perspect Psychiatr Care 1991;27(3):13-8).

Good luck with your investigation!

October 2002

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