Stigmatising attitudes towards people with mental disorders: a comparison of Australian health professionals with the general community Academic Article uri icon


  • OBJECTIVE: The aim of this paper was to explore attitudes towards people with mental disorders among Australian health professionals (psychiatrists, psychologists and general practitioners (GPs)) and to compare their attitudes with members of the general community. METHODS: The study involved a postal survey of 518 GPs, 506 psychiatrists and 498 clinical psychologists and a telephone survey of 6019 members of the general community. Participants were given a case vignette describing a person with either depression, depression with suicidal thoughts, early schizophrenia, chronic schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or social phobia and two questionnaires to assess stigmatising attitudes (the Depression Stigma Scale and the Social Distance Scale). Exploratory structural equation modelling was used to elucidate the structure of stigma as measured by the two scales, to establish dimensions of stigma and to compare patterns of association according to gender, age, vignette and professional grouping. RESULTS: The measurement characteristics of stigmatising attitudes in health professionals were found to be comparable to those in members of the general community in social distance and also in personal and perceived attitude stigma, with each forming distinct dimensions and each comprising 'Weak-not-sick' and 'Dangerous/unpredictable' components. Among health professionals, female gender, age and being a GP were associated with higher scores on the personal stigma scales. Mental health professionals had lower scores on the personal 'Weak-not-sick' and 'Dangerous/unpredictable' scales than members of the general community, while there were no significant differences in the desire for social distance between health professionals and the general community. CONCLUSIONS: While mental health professionals have less stigmatising attitudes than the general public, the greater beliefs in dangerousness and personal weakness by GPs should be addressed.


publication date

  • 2014