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Public attitudes towards people with mental illness 

Public attitudes towards people with mental illness
Public attitudes towards people with mental illness
Oxford Textbook of Community Mental Health

Bruce Link

, Matthias C. Angermeyer

, and Jo Phelan


The increase in research about public knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs concerning mental illnesses is a prominent fact. From just a small number of path-breaking studies in the 1950s and 1960s (Cohen and Struening, 1962; Cumming and Cumming, 1957; Nunnally, 1961; Star, 1955) the field has grown to become an enormous literature that has used multiple measures and multiple methods in studies conducted in a vast array of populations (Link et al., 2004; Thornicroft 2006; Thornicroft et al., 2009). We seek to capture the essence of this body of work by reviewing the core questions it has assessed. We follow this brief review by posing two questions. The first asks why it is important to study knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs (KABs) and turns our attention to KABs as representations of cultural conceptions of mental illness. We argue that KABs are elements of a cultural context that influences how people think about and respond to mental illnesses and that this influence expands beyond the narrow individually-based model that asks whether individual attitudes are good predictors of individual behaviours. To exemplify this point we highlight the importance of cultural conceptions for modified labelling theory and for the creation and sustenance of structural stigma. The second question asks how we can capture changes in KABs towards mental illnesses and leads us to consider the importance of studies that monitor trends in KABs over time.

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