Personal experience, work seniority improve mental health professionals' outlook

February 4, 2014, University of Washington

One might think that after years of seeing people at their worst, mental health workers would harbor negative attitudes about mental illness, perhaps associating people with mental health issues as less competent or dangerous. But a new study suggests the opposite.

In a survey of 731 professionals in Washington state, the more seniority employees had on the job, the more positively they viewed people with . The survey also linked mental health workers' with having advanced degrees and reporting a mental illness themselves.

"The results suggest that the more exposure you have personally and professionally to mental illness, the more positive attitudes you'll have," said Jennifer Stuber, lead author of the paper and an assistant professor of social work at the University of Washington.

Pervasive, stigmatizing views of people with mental illness can create barriers for their employment, housing, medical treatment and social relationships, wrote Stuber in the study published online in January by Psychiatric Services.

Mental health workers having these biased, denigrating views could set low expectations for improvement for individuals seeking treatment, she said.

The study, funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and National Institute of Mental Health, is among the first in the United States to examine attitudes among mental .

"On one hand, it may be the case that mental health professionals become hardened, because they see people at their worst and become discouraged if treatment is slow," Stuber said. "On the other hand, more experience may make mental health professionals more empathetic to their clients and aware of the possibility of recovery."

Stuber and her research team conducted 30-minute online surveys assessing the perceived competence and dangerousness of individuals with depression and schizophrenia. A sample of mental health professionals – counselors, social workers, psychologists, case managers and others – living in Washington read vignettes portraying people who had symptoms of depression or schizophrenia.

Then the participants answered questions gauging how much distance they would want to keep from the people in the vignettes. Would they want the person as their neighbor, housemate, co-worker or spouse? How likely is the person to be dangerous or make responsible financial or treatment decisions? Such questions are used in other surveys that measure stereotypes and stigmas such as those against people who are gay or use drugs.

Stuber and her colleagues found that mental health workers who had at least a four-year college degree, a job position denoting greater seniority (for example, program manager) and a mental illness themselves had more positive attitudes about people with .

"The finding that stands out the most is that almost a third of mental health professionals disclosed that they received a diagnosis of mental illness in the past," Stuber said. "This prior experience was associated with less , which has implications for how we think of the relevance of that experience in recruiting for a mental health workforce."

The researchers compared the findings to attitudes held by non-experts, composed of close to 400 adults taking the biennial national General Social Survey.

Overall, mental held more positive attitudes than did the general public. For instance, 40 percent of and 70 percent of the general public indicated they wouldn't want someone with schizophrenia as a co-worker. Similarly, 35 percent of and 70 percent of the public considered people with schizophrenia to be dangerous.

"The study shows that even though have by and large more favorable views about mental health patients than the public, stigmatizing attitudes still exist," Stuber said.

For instance, she said, people have persistent misguided beliefs that individuals with schizophrenia are dangerous and prone to violence.

"We know that mental illness alone isn't a predictor of violence. But when combined with alcohol, drugs or abuse, a prior history of violence mental illness can be a contributing factor to violence," Stuber said. "We need to train mental health providers to reject inaccurate public perceptions about people with mental illnesses."

Explore further: Adults with mental illness have lower rate of decline in smoking

More information: ps.psychiatryonline.org/articl … px?articleid=1814533

Related Stories

Adults with mental illness have lower rate of decline in smoking

January 7, 2014
In recent years, the decline in smoking among individuals with mental illness was significantly less than among those without mental illness, although the rates of quitting smoking were greater among those receiving mental ...

Closing mental-illness gap in Vietnam

January 29, 2014
A Simon Fraser University researcher is going to Vietnam to study how to address the shortage of accessible and adequate services for people with mental disorders like depression and anxiety.

Why Irish nurses are 'kinder' when caring for the mentally ill

December 18, 2013
A leading mental health expert says the nationalities and culture of nurses profoundly affects their attitudes to disturbed patients.

Women with mental health disability may face four-fold risk of abusive relationship

January 30, 2014
Women with a severe mental health-related disability are nearly four times more likely to have been a victim of intimate partner violence than those without a disability, according to a new study by Women's College Hospital ...

Knowledge about mental illness increases likelihood of seeking help

June 1, 2011
Increased knowledge about mental illness, attitudes of tolerance toward people with mental illness, and support for providing them with care in the community lead to an increased likelihood of individuals seeking help, according ...

CWRU researcher finds released inmates need reentry programs to meet basic and mental health needs

January 6, 2014
When inmates with severe mental illness are released from jail, their priority is finding shelter, food, money and clothes. Even needs as basic as soap and a place to bathe can be hard to come by for people leaving jail, ...

Recommended for you

Modulating molecules: Study shows oxytocin helps the brain to modulate social signals

January 17, 2018
Between sights, sounds, smells and other senses, the brain is flooded with stimuli on a moment-to-moment basis. How can it sort through the flood of information to decide what is important and what can be relegated to the ...

Reducing sessions of trauma-focused psychotherapy does not affect effectiveness

January 17, 2018
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) patients treated with as few as five sessions of trauma-focused psychotherapy find it equally effective as receiving 12 sessions.

How past intentions influence generosity toward the future

January 17, 2018
Over time, it really is the thought that counts – provided we know what that thought was, suggests new research from Duke University's Fuqua School of Business.

Baby brains help infants figure it out before they try it out

January 17, 2018
Babies often amaze their parents when they seemingly learn new skills overnight—how to walk, for example. But their brains were probably prepping for those tasks long before their first steps occurred, according to researchers.

Tracking the impact of early abuse and neglect

January 17, 2018
Children who experience abuse and neglect early in life are more likely to have problems in social relationships and underachieve academically as adults.

Study: No evidence to support link between violent video games and behaviour

January 16, 2018
Researchers at the University of York have found no evidence to support the theory that video games make players more violent.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.