Helping and stigmatization of persons with mental disorders

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Kuelker, Eric.
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Beliefs about the controllability of the cause and of the cure of physical and mental problems have been hypothesized to determine affective reactions, which in turn determine helping intentions toward individuals with these problems (Weiner, Perry, & Magnusson, 1988), such as mental disorder. Other research has shown that knowledge/experience with mentally disordered persons, and perceptions of their dangerousness also influence rejection of persons with mental disorders. These varying beliefs and experiences were combined into a model of stigmatization and intentions to reject mentally disordered persons. The model hypothesized that perceptions of the controllability of mental disorder influences affective responses toward mentally disordered persons. Demographic characteristics of respondents, their prior contact with persons with a mental disorder and perceptions of their dangerousness were also hypothesized to influence affective reactions. In turn, affective reactions were postulated to predict behavioral intentions of assistance or rejection toward persons with a mental disorder. The model, and variants of it, were tested by structural equation modelling on data gathered from a random household sample interview study of 506 Winnipeg residents. The model was a good fit to the data, with perceptions of the likelihood of harm by persons with a mental disorder being the strongest determinant of affective responses. Beliefs about dangerousness, controllability of mental disorder, respondent demographics and knowledge/experience with persons with a mental disorder also predicted affective responses. Affective responses incompletely predicted intentions to reject, as the previous variables directly predicted intentions to reject. The results present a difficulty to Weiner's (1980, 1993) theory of stigmatization, which states that controllability beliefs predict affective responses, which in turn predict intentions to neglect or help stigmatized persons. Other beliefs and characteristics of respondents and the social context of their interaction with mentally disordered persons may be more powerful determinants of intentions to reject or accept them.