OBJECTIVES: The authors used nationwide survey data to characterize current public conceptions related to recognition of mental illness and perceived causes, dangerousness, and desired social distance. METHODS: Data were derived from a vignette experiment included in the 1996 General Social Survey. Respondents (n = 1444) were randomly assigned to 1 of 5 vignette conditions. Four vignettes described psychiatric disorders meeting diagnostic criteria, and the fifth depicted a "troubled person" with subclinical problems and worries. RESULTS: Results indicate that the majority of the public identifies schizophrenia (88%) and major depression (69%) as mental illnesses and that most report multicausal explanations combining stressful circumstances with biologic and genetic factors. Results also show, however, that smaller proportions associate alcohol (49%) or drug (44%) abuse with mental illness and that symptoms of mental illness remain strongly connected with public fears about potential violence and with a desire for limited social interaction. CONCLUSIONS: While there is reason for optimism in the public's recognition of mental illness and causal attributions, a strong stereotype of dangerousness and desire for social distance persist. These latter conceptions are likely to negatively affect people with mental illness.


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B G Link, J C Phelan, M Bresnahan, A Stueve, and B A PescosolidoDivision of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA. “Public conceptions of mental illness: labels, causes, dangerousness, and social distance.”, American Journal of Public Health 89, no. 9 (September 1, 1999): pp. 1328-1333.


PMID: 10474548