Sri Lankan doctors' and medical undergraduates' attitudes towards mental illness



Publication Details

Fernando, S. M., Deane, F. P. & McLeod, H. J. (2010). Sri Lankan doctors' and medical undergraduates' attitudes towards mental illness. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 45 (7), 733-739.


Background Stigmatizing attitudes towards mental illness can impede help-seeking and adversely affect treatment outcomes, especially if such attitudes are endorsed by medical personnel. In order to help identify targets for antistigma interventions, we comprehensively examined negative attitudes towards mental illness displayed by Sri Lankan doctors and medical students and compared these with equivalent UK and other international data. Method A self-report questionnaire originally developed in the UK was completed by medical students (n = 574) and doctors (n = 74) from a teaching hospital in Colombo. The questions assessed the presence and intensity of stigmatizing attitudes towards patients with schizophrenia, depression, panic disorder, dementia and drug and alcohol addiction. Results The study revealed higher levels of stigma towards patients with depression, alcohol and drug addiction in this Sri Lankan sample compared to UK data but attitudes towards schizophrenia were less stigmatized in Sri Lanka. Blaming attitudes were consistently high across diagnoses in the Sri Lankan sample. Sri Lankan medical students displayed more negative attitudes than doctors (P\0.001). Overall stigma was greatest towards patients with drug addiction, followed by, alcohol addiction, schizophrenia, depression, panic disorder and dementia. Conclusions Sri Lankan doctors and undergraduates endorse stigmatizing attitudes towards mental illnesses and are especially prone to see patients as blameworthy. As such attitudes are likely to affect the engagement of patients in treatment and specific interventions that modify negative attitudes towards people with mental illnesses are needed. Ensuring that medical students have contact with recovered patients in community psychiatry settings may be one way of decreasing stigmatizing attitudes.

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