Dr. Gus Thompson, from the Departments of Psychiatry and Public Health Sciences at the U of A, compared medical students, advocates of a local schizophrenic society and the general public. Participants answered questions about symptoms of schizophrenia, perceived dangerousness of schizophrenics, increasing taxes for better services and more.
He found that Canadians--Albertans in particular--think schizophrenia is caused mainly by genetic factors and biochemical imbalances in the brain. No other country of those studied was like that--the others attributed schizophrenia to social factors and stress.
Although Albertans were supportive, stigma remains, however, mainly to do with fears that those with schizophrenia are dangerous, says Thompson. And when participants were asked if they would marry someone with the disease, advocates from the schizophrenic society were less likely to say yes than were members of the general public.
Thompson's findings show the mentally ill are not held in the same negative regard as they were 20 or 30 years ago. The results also show that it may be better to focus on a clearly definable problem (e.g. housing, relationships, employment), rather than treating stigma as if it is the primary issue.
The paper appears in the current issue of Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. This work derives from the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) campaign to fight stigma associated with schizophrenia. The participating countries to date include Austria, Canada, China, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Germany, and Spain.
Alberta served as a pilot site for the campaign in terms of development and trial of interventions designed to reduce stigma.