How we refer to people with mental illness can affect our levels of tolerance towards them, a first-of-its-kind study has found.
Researchers have found that people show less tolerance towards those who are referred to as “mentally ill” when compared to those called “people with mental illness”.
According to the study at the Ohio State University, people are more likely to agree with the statement “the mentally ill should be isolated from the community” than the almost identical statement “people with mental illnesses should be isolated from the community.”
The researchers studied three groups of people - 221 undergraduate students, 269 professional counsellors and counsellors-in-training and 211 non-student adults.
Results showed that each of the three groups showed less tolerance when their surveys referred to “the mentally ill”.
“The important point to take away is that no one, at least in our study, was immune. All showed some evidence of being affected by the language used to describe people with mental illness,” said Darcy Haag Granello from the university.
“The language we use has real effects on our levels of tolerance for people with mental illness,” Granello said.
All participants completed a standard, often-used survey instrument created in 1979 called the Community Attitudes Toward the Mentally Ill (CAMI).
The CAMI is a 40-item survey designed to measure people’s attitudes toward people with diagnosable mental illness.
Participants indicated the degree to which they agreed with the statements on a five-point scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).
The questionnaires were identical in all ways except one
half the people received a survey where all references were to ‘the mentally ill’ and half received a survey where all references were to ‘people with mental illnesses.’
The questionnaires looked at different aspects of how people view those with mental illnesses.
The findings were published in the Journal of Counselling and Development.