As if living with a mental illness wasn’t tough enough, many are stigmatized and discriminated by the rest of the population. Many people with a mental illness report that how others judge them is one of their greatest barriers to a complete and satisfying life. A new study suggests conservatives are much likelier to hold negative stereotypes about the mentally ill than moderates and liberals.
Joseph DeLuca and Philip Yanos, of the City University of New York surveyed 505 participants from New York state with questions meant to determine political opinions, as well as beliefs and attitudes about people living mental illnesses like major depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, panic disorder or schizophrenia.
The first barrage of questions grouped participants into either conservatives, moderates or liberals. The next questions measured the participants Right Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) beliefs. RWA refers to the ideology that emphasizes obedience of traditional authority and promotes hostility to stigmatized groups. A high RWA score is associated with prejudice towards minority groups.
The survey suggests that politically conservatives tend to hold the most stigmatized beliefs about the mentally ill. They were also likelier to put the most social distance between themselves and mentally ill people.
“Individuals with ‘High RWA’ were more likely to see individuals with mental illness as dangerous and unpredictable, and less willing to want to socially associate with individuals with mental illness. These results remained statistically significant even when controlling for other factors that consistently predict mental health stigma. Negative stereotypes also partially mediated individuals with RWA’s significant relationship to social distance,” the researchers wrote in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry.
Many studies have found that media and the entertainment industry play a key role in shaping public opinions about mental health and illness. People with mental health conditions are often depicted as dangerous, violent and unpredictable. News stories that sensationalize violent acts by a person with a mental health condition are typically featured as headline news. The many cases of recovery from illness are less appealing to cover. The fact that most mental illness are a threat solely to the patient, and not other people, is easily discarded as well. The present research suggests conservatives are more likely than people of other political orientations to hold negative stereotypes about the mentally ill. Why people hold stigmatized beliefs in the first place is still poorly understood, though.