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Salud mental

Print version ISSN 0185-3325


FRESAN, Ana et al. Attitudes of female students of psychology toward people with schizophrenia: Relationship with perception of aggressiveness and dangerousness. Salud Ment [online]. 2012, vol.35, n.3, pp.215-223. ISSN 0185-3325.

Introduction Perception of environment and reality stems mainly from factors determined by social and cultural influences. Several socialization processes promote the development of relations that endorse or reject certain values or identities. Unfortunately, many of these relations arise from prejudiced values that generate negative attitudes such as stigmatization or discrimination toward some persons. According to psychosocial models, generation of stigma is a consequence of three aspects: lack of knowledge about the person's condition (ignorance); development of negative attitudes (prejudice) and a tendency to exclude or reject some individuals (discrimination). Particularly, in mental health problems, general public knowledge of severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia frequently develops in accordance to myths and misconceptions. For example, schizophrenics are commonly viewed as mad and incompetent individuals that produce fear and rejection. These erroneous conceptions originate from considering that they are incapable of controlling their acts, thus giving rise to aggressive, violent or dangerous conducts. Stigmatization impacts patients increasing depressive symptoms, anxiety and social withdrawal. Stigma also has a negative impact on diagnosis and treatment; timely diagnostic interventions and specialized treatments are frequently delayed in stigmatized individuals. Although it is reasonable to anticipate that stigmatization attitudes are more common among persons with low cultural levels, many studies have demonstrated that unfortunately this problem is also present in many health professionals, including those who work with the mentally ill. For these reasons different attempts have developed to reduce stigma by means of mental health literacy interventions oriented to modify and eliminate misconceptions about mental patients and their illness. In this sense, mental health literacy is defined as any educational intervention aimed to increase recognition, management and prevention of mental illness. Many studies have demonstrated that this type of interventions have a positive impact in reducing negative attitudes toward patients, diminishing in consequence treatment gap. In accordance to this theoretical framework, the principal objective of this study was to evaluate in a group of female psychology students, their attitudes toward mental illness determining their perception of danger and aggressiveness in a schizophrenic patient. We hypothesized that perception of dangerousness and aggressiveness will correlate with more negative attitudes to mental illness. Additionally, we compared attitudes to severe mental illness according to other variables related to mental health literacy such as knowledge of etiology of illness and treatment options, among female student in their first half of their career and female student in their second half. We hypothesized that advanced student will have a higher level of mental health literacy and less negative attitudes to mental illness. Method A total of 110 female psychology students from a university in Mexico City were included in the study. Group's mean age (±SD) was 21.6 (1.7) years (range 19-33 years). All subjects gave their consent to participate in a voluntary and anonymous manner. Sixty five students (59.1%) were at the initial half-stage of their career (1st to 5th semester), and forty five (40.9%) were at their last half-stage (6th to 10th semester). The study was approved by the Institutional Research and Ethical Committees (Instituto Nacional de Psiquiatría Ramón de la Fuente), and by the university's authorities. The Opinions about Mental Illness Scale (OMI), previously translated and standardized in our country (OMI-M), was used to evaluate personal attitudes toward severe mentally ill persons. OMI-M is a 34-item self-report questionnaire which evaluates attitudes utilizing a 5-points Liker scale procedure (1 = totally disagree; 5=totally agree). Evaluation includes six factors: 1. Separatism, which emphasizes the persons' perceived differences about a mental disorder and the desire of keeping a distance to be safe; 2. Stereotyping, defined as conceiving mentally ill persons in accordance to certain behavioral and intellectual patterns; 3. Restrictiveness, which includes items that uphold an uncertain notion regarding the rights of mentally ill persons; 4. Benevolence, which evaluates compassion to the mentally ill; 5. Pessimistic prediction, referring to the perception that mentally ill persons are incapable of improving on their symptoms and how society is also not optimistic in this respect; 6. Stigmatization, build upon items that perceive mental illness as a cause of shame. The Public Aggressiveness Concept Questionnaire, a self-rated instrument was also applied in the study. This questionnaire evaluates the perception of aggressiveness after reviewing a standardized clinical vignette of a patient with an active paranoid schizophrenia. The reviewer is asked to answer questions regarding the identification of aggressive conduct in the vignette, including the presence and intensity of verbal and physical violence. In another section, the way symptoms could be controlled is evaluated. Additional questions are included in the final section of the questionnaire aimed to evaluate concepts such as if the reviewer considers that the person in the vignette has a mental illness, what causes might originate this condition, and if he or she perceives the subject as socially dangerous. Data analysis was carried utilizing the SPSS, version 17.0, statistical program. Categorical variables description was done with rates and percentages; continuous variables were analyzed with means and standard deviation.

Keywords : Attitudes; psychology students; aggression; stigma; schizophrenia.

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