The Real Face of Mental Illness: The Effects of Messaging on Attitudes Towards People with Severe Mental Illness

Kelsey J. Schulman, The College of Wooster


Stigmatizing beliefs and stereotypes about severe mental illness such as notions of dangerousness are perpetuated in society and lead to negative attitudes about individuals with mental illness. This study examined how the quality of a message influences the attitudes towards someone with severe mental illness (schizophrenia) and the likelihood of helping behavior. Participants in the study (N=40) were 18 years of age and older and studied at the College of Wooster. A narrative from a patient with schizophrenia was presented in four different ways: a text only transcription of an interview, text + audio, text + photo, and the original video interview with subtitles to see if the quality of the message had an influence on attitude or on the amount of hypothetical money participants donated to assist people with schizophrenia. The quality of the messaging was not supported as a factor leading to a higher likelihood of helping behavior or more positive attitude towards the patient with schizophrenia. The quality of messaging was not found to be an important factor in creating a more positive attitude towards people with severe mental illness. An important finding was that overall, a negative attitude towards the patient with schizophrenia was evident, suggesting that stigma towards mental illness is pervasive and not easily changed by short exposure to different forms of media messaging. Despite this negative attitude, participants still donated significantly more money than nothing, suggesting that future research should focus on additional factors relating to helping behavior towards people with schizophrenia.