medwireNews: People are becoming more ready to accept a biologic explanation for schizophrenia, shows a German study spanning 21 years.
On the other hand, the study participants became less comfortable with patients who have the condition, with more people interviewed in 2011 wishing to keep a social distance than in 1990.
"Our result is all the more sobering given that over the past 10 years great efforts have been made in Germany to fight against the stigma attached to mental disorders," say lead study author Matthias Angermeyer (Center for Public Mental Health, Gösing am Wagram, Austria) and colleagues.
In 1990, the researchers contacted 3067 people and interviewed 70%; in 2011, they contacted 2951 and interviewed 64%. Between the two surveys, the proportion of people indicating a desire for social distance from schizophrenia patients increased significantly on all measures.
For example, the proportion of people who would not recommend a schizophrenia patient for a job rose from 44% to 63% (the largest increase) and the proportion who would not allow a schizophrenia patient to look after their children rose from 67% to 79% (the highest rate).
By contrast, there were no consistent changes in participants' desire for social distance from people with depression or alcohol dependence.
This is "an interesting parallel to the development of biological causal explanations, which have only increased for schizophrenia," Angermeyer et al write in the British Journal of Psychiatry.
The proportion of people endorsing brain disease as a cause of schizophrenia rose by a significant 8% between the two surveys, whereas it fell by a significant 9% and 7% for depression and alcohol dependence, respectively.
The researchers speculate that this could be due to recent difficult global economic conditions causing people to attribute depression and alcohol dependency to external factors such as unemployment.
However, participants were markedly more ready to recommend professional mental health services to people with any of the conditions. There were large, significant increases in the proportion of participants who would encourage patients to see a psychiatrist or a psychotherapist, and who would recommend psychotropic medication and psychotherapy.
"Seemingly, the changes that have taken place in psychiatry over the past decades have benefited the image of psychiatry, but have failed to improve the image of its patients," say the researchers. "Further efforts are necessary to combat the stigmatisation and discrimination of people with mental illness."
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