A structured interview-based questionnaire was used to measure the number of cards and gifts received by 40 people undergoing psychiatric in-patient treatment, compared with an age- and gender-matched group of medical in-patients. The study also assessed the amount of disclosure of admission and diagnosis to family and friends in the two groups.
The psychiatric patients received about half as many cards as the medical patients (60 v. 112). Gifts to the psychiatric patients were often practical in nature and seldom included luxury items such as flowers. Disclosure of admission for mental illness (compared with the physical illness group) was significantly lower, both to family members (139 v. 193, P=0.041) and friends (74 v. 332, P=0.0001).
The stigma of mental illness is reflected in the secrecy surrounding disclosure of hospital admission and the lack of tokens of support. Clinicians should be aware of the resulting sense of isolation and shame, and the consequences for mental health in view of reduced social networks increasing the risk of future relapse rates. Reduced contact with mentally ill patients has implications for society as a whole in maintaining the status quo of stigma.