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Public perceptions of mental health professionals: stigma by association?

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Ebsworth, Sarah J 
Foster, Juliet LH 


BACKGROUND: Existing research has identified the phenomenon of associative stigma, but has not robustly illustrated that any stigmatisation of mental health professionals (MHPs) stems from association with clients. AIM: To examine whether public perceptions of MHPs mirror ideas about service users. METHOD: A mixed-methods approach incorporated statistical analysis of questionnaire results and thematic analysis of focus group transcripts. A convenience sample (N = 260) completed the questionnaire, rating "typical" target professionals (some treating specified mental health conditions) on semantic differential scales. Three focus groups (N = 15) triangulated questionnaire findings. RESULTS: Mirroring mental illness stereotypes, questionnaire participants rated counsellors and psychiatrists as more eccentric and unpredictable than GPs. Professionals specialising in treating substance abuse and schizophrenia were rated as less empathetic, agreeable, predictable and conventional than those treating depression, reflecting differing representations of these conditions. Specialists in depression and schizophrenia were rated as more withdrawn than those treating substance abuse. Focus group participants postulated that mental health problems may cause or result from mental health employment. CONCLUSION: MHPs seem stigmatised by association with clients. Future research should elucidate the origins of stigma to safeguard professionals' and clients' well-being.



associative stigma, mental health care, mental health professionals, stereotyping

Journal Title

J Ment Health

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Taylor & Francis