RESEARCH WEEKLY: Short Intervention Can Change Public Attitudes Toward Schizophrenia
By Kelli South
When people know more about a subject and have a greater understanding, their beliefs and attitudes regarding that subject are likely to change as well. Understanding the signs and symptoms associated with severe mental illness can help people identify the signs of a first episode of psychosis earlier and be less afraid to seek treatment. Early treatment of severe mental illness is proven to help prevent symptom severity and negative outcomes associated with non-treatment. The earlier a person receives treatment for their illness, the better their long-term prognosis.
Mental Illness Awareness Week, the first week in October, was established to educate the public about mental illness and aims to share knowledge and reduce the negative associations with these illnesses. In honor of Mental Illness Awareness Week, Research Weekly is highlighting new research from Schizophrenia Bulletin that examines how increasing awareness has the potential to shift public attitudes toward severe mental illness. Researchers showed participants a short video of a woman describing her experience with her first episode of psychosis to see if it had an impact on the participants’ stigma perceptions regarding schizophrenia.
The researchers conducted a randomized control trial consisting of 1,203 study participants who were between 18-30 years old. The researchers chose this specific age group because the video subject was a woman within that age range and they wanted the participants and subject to be peers in order to have the most impact on attitudes.
The experiment used a 90-second video of an empowered young woman describing her experience with her first episode of psychosis and the associated difficulties she faces in her life due to her diagnosis of schizophrenia. One group watched the video, another group read a written description of it and the control group did nothing.
All groups took a web-based, self-reported questionnaire after exposure to the video, written summary or control. The questionnaire measured their attitudes in five areas, including measuring participants’ perceptions of a person with schizophrenia’s ability to maintain their treatment, marry and have children, manage money and meet personal goals. It also asked participants’ willingness to live near someone or have their child marry someone with schizophrenia.
The results showed a significant decrease in stigma perceptions across all five categories for both the group that watched the video and the group that read the summary. This indicates that even a brief intervention can increase awareness surrounding severe mental illness and reduce negative associations.
Interestingly, the study also found no difference in stigma perceptions between the group that watched the video and respondents who indicated they have a friend or family member with schizophrenia. The authors suggest this could mean a short, empowering video could be as effective in changing attitudes as having a close relationship with someone with schizophrenia.
As the authors note, this is the first study of its kind that examines both first episode psychosis in particular and a brief video intervention. Due to the positive results, the authors suggest more research should be done with even shorter videos, perhaps as short as 30 seconds, to engage young viewers who are most attracted to short content. They cite the inexpensiveness of the intervention as another reason to continue using this method to spread awareness and change public attitudes toward serious mental illness.
The authors also call for more research on whether the positive changes in attitudes last long-term or if they represent brief changes in attitudes. Additionally, because this study focuses specifically on the first episode of psychosis, the authors argue that reducing stigmatic attitudes could help people detect and seek treatment for an illness earlier and reduce the duration of their untreated psychosis. Reducing the duration of untreated psychosis is one way to help a person with a serious mental illness achieve better outcomes and reduce symptom severity.
In light of Mental Illness Awareness Week, it is especially important to consider any possible interventions that can be used to spread awareness, increase knowledge and reduce negative attitudes toward people with severe mental illness. This promising study marks the beginning of a new intervention that could have a major impact in the future.