The attitudes of members of the general population to people with psychiatric and physical illnesses were examined. We took a random sample of 280 members of the general population listed in the phone directory and sent them a brief clinical vignette about a neighbour with either schizophrenia, depression, diabetes or no illness.
Only 103 (41%) of the surveyed general population responded. Some unsolicited comments revealed negative attitudes from a small number of subjects. There were, however, no statistically significant differences in general attitudes to sufferers of psychiatric and physical illnesses suggestive of discrimination against the former. Indeed, respondents showed a general tendency to be more supportive of a neighbour with any illness than to those without. In a sub-analysis, however, those who knew someone with schizophrenia were significantly less likely to be sympathetic towards them.
We have not detected any general stigmatisation of those with psychiatric disorders, but our results may be attributable to response bias. Discrimination against those with psychiatric disorder may be limited to a relatively small sector of society or may only be manifest in relatively close relationships.
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