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Schizophr Res. 2004 Aug 1;69(2-3):175-82.

Familiarity with mental illness and social distance from people with schizophrenia and major depression: testing a model using data from a representative population survey.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of Leipzig, Germany.



The main purpose of this study is to examine whether the relationship between familiarity with mental illness and stigmatizing attitudes about mental illness, which had been observed in a previous study based on a sample of community college students (Psychiatr. Serv. 52 (2001) 953), can be replicated using data from a representative population survey.


In spring 2001, a representative survey was carried out in Germany (n=5025). A personal, fully structured interview was conducted which began with the presentation of a vignette depicting someone with either schizophrenia or major depression. Respondents were asked to respond to measures assessing familiarity, perception of dangerousness, fear, and social distance. Path analysis with manifest variable structural modeling techniques was applied to test the model used in the previous study.


Despite differences in methods, most findings of the previous study were replicated. Respondents who were familiar with mental illness were less likely to believe that people with schizophrenia or major depression are dangerous. Weaker perceptions of dangerousness corresponded closely with less fear of such people, which in turn was associated with less social distance. The effect of familiarity was somewhat pervasive: respondents who reported to be familiar with mental illness expressed a less strong desire for social distance. There is also a relatively strong relationship between perceived dangerousness and social distance.


Our findings fully support the notion that approaches to social change which increase the public's familiarity with mental illness will decrease stigma.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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