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Stigmatisation of schizophrenia still rife, research reveals

Research has revealed that false perceptions of schizophrenia are rife, with many people indicating they would not want someone with schizophrenia looking after their children or holding certain job roles.

Misconceptions about the condition have led some people to believe that those with schizophrenia are dangerous and aggressive, with around one in five incorrectly believing it can be caused by substance abuse.

The research, sponsored by Toluna and XSIGHTS on behalf of the ESOMAR Foundation, surveyed a representative sample of 1500 adults in the USA, UK, South Africa, France, India, and Brazil between May 7 and May 16 2021.

The findings showed that, despite nearly half of the respondents across all countries surveyed (48% – Brazil; 42% – India; 44% – South Africa; 51% – UK; 47% -USA) having experienced a mental health problem themselves (except France at only 26%), the stigmatisation of schizophrenia has resulted in negative perceptions of the condition.

One way of measuring stigmatization is through understanding the personal distance respondents would like to keep between themselves and people with schizophrenia.

These findings showed that almost half the respondents would not allow a person with schizophrenia to look after their children (France – 53%; India – 45%; South Africa – 45%; Brazil – 43%; USA – 41%; UK – 32%). Further, some respondents stated they would be upset having someone with schizophrenia as a neighbour (India – 26%; France – 24%; USA – 15%; Brazil – 10%; UK – 9%; South Africa – 7%) or close friend (India – 26%; France – 20%; USA – 15%; Brazil – 9%; UK – 9%; South Africa – 8%).

Another way of measuring stigmatization is through understanding the economic and public distance respondents would like to keep from people with schizophrenia.

These findings showed that over a third of respondents would not want a person with schizophrenia to be a medical doctor (France – 45%; India – 43%; South Africa – 39%; USA – 39%; Brazil – 31%; UK – 31%), and around a quarter would not want them being a teacher (France – 39%; India – 38%; USA – 29%; South Africa – 29%; Brazil – 23%; UK – 22%).

Some also said that if they were an employer, that they would not want a person with schizophrenia working for them (India – 32%; France – 22%; USA – 19%; Brazil – 16%; South Africa – 15%; UK – 11%).

The study also found that less than half the respondents agree that schizophrenia is caused by a combination of hereditary and environmental factors (Brazil – 49%; France – 31%; India – 45%; South Africa – 41%; UK – 33%; USA – 44%).

Misconceptions about the condition were common, with 20% of Indian respondents believing that schizophrenia is caused by evil spirits and witchcraft, and that it is contagious; in France, 35% of respondents believe that schizophrenia is caused by the use of illegal substances such as ecstasy.

a man holds his head while sitting on a sofa

Interestingly, the findings showed that both positive and negative perceptions relating to schizophrenia co-exist in the public imagination. Some people are of the understanding that those with schizophrenia are highly intelligent (Brazil – 28%; India – 27%; USA – 27%; South Africa – 20%; UK – 18%; France – 16%) and creative (India – 30%; Brazil – 34%; South Africa – 23%; USA – 23%; France – 18%; UK – 15%).

On the flipside, up to a third of respondents believe that people with schizophrenia are generally dangerous and aggressive (France – 36%; India – 35%; Brazil – 28%; South Africa – 24%; USA – 20%; UK – 13%).

Further, there are still members of the public who believe that people with schizophrenia can never work (India – 21%; France – 15%; Brazil – 13%; USA – 10%; South Africa – 9%; UK – 6) or live outside of a mental hospital (India – 22%; USA – 13%; France – 12%; Brazil – 9%; South Africa – 8%; UK – 13%).

Frederic-Charles Petit, CEO and founder of Toluna said: ‘Mental health and wellbeing is important to all of us, our families, friends, colleagues, and wider communities.

‘So it is critical, now more than ever, that we are mindful of this and we consider how we can raise awareness, break down barriers, and support each other in our daily lives.

‘We, at Toluna, are proud to support the ESOMAR Foundation in its effort to understand public perceptions of schizophrenia through access to our global panel in the USA, UK, South Africa, France, India, and Brazil.’

Çi?dem Penn, Founder and General Manager of XSIGHTS said: ‘Our survey reveals the extent to which we all need to be inclusive towards persons with mental health problems, and with schizophrenia, in particular.

‘The findings describe how stigmatisation inhibits any chance of leading a balanced life and how it results in  exploitation, victimisation, chronic poverty, and eventually suicide.

‘Each country has its own way of dealing with schizophrenia, but all share the same need for raising awareness about the condition, its causes, and course.

‘It is, however, very encouraging to see that great numbers of respondents are willing to provide support and be more inclusive towards patients.’

Photo Credit – Nik Shuliahin

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