Research & Insights

The Politics of Mental Illness

Mental illness is stigmatized in America, leaving many unwilling to seek treatment.

New research suggests that stigmatization is a political matter. People who are more conservative are more likely to hold negative attitudes toward people with mental illness. However, knowing someone with a mental illness can reduce stigmatization. These findings were published in the February 2016 issue of the International Journal of Social Psychiatry.

Researchers Joseph S. DeLuca and Philip T. Yanos surveyed 505 participants on their attitudes toward people with mental illness. Participants were asked how much they agreed with statements like, “I believe a person with mental illness is a danger to others” and “I believe a person with mental illness would improve if given treatment and support.” They were also asked about their willingness to have relationships with people with mental illness.

Participants then responded to questions on the right-wing authoritarian scale (RWA), a common tool designed to assess specific types of conservatism. Questions on the scale include: “This country would work a lot better if certain groups of troublemakers would just shut up and accept their group’s traditional place in society” and “What our country really needs is a strong, determined leader who will crush evil, and take us back to our true path.”

Participants who scored high in right-wing authoritarianism tended to stigmatize people with mental illness more. 

However, the researchers found that knowing someone with mental illness increased beliefs that people with mental illness could recover and willingness to interact with them in the future.

“The more positive interactions and portrayals of mental illness one is exposed to, the less chance of stigma. Previous research has shown that the relationship between [right-wing authoritarian attitudes] and stigma can decrease over time, especially if leaders and authority figures become less inclined to express prejudice openly,” suggest the researchers.

International Journal of Social Psychiatry 

Joseph S. DeLuca and Philip T. Yanos, City University of New York


Posted: May 24, 2016
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