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The effects on familiarity on stigma components in potential employers towards people with a serious mental illness in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.

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Aim The purpose of the research study was to explore and to describe stereotypes associated with serious mental illness and the effects of familiarity on the serious mental illness stigma process in potential employer informants in the greater Durban area, eThekwini district, KwaZulu-Natal. Methods A quantitative non-experimental cross sectional survey relational research design was used to describe firstly, the stereotyping and individual discriminatory behavior (desire for social distance) of potential employers to a person with a SMI, and secondly, the effect of familiarity and other person variables (culture, age and gender) on the stigma components of stereotyping, emotional reaction and individual discriminatory behavior (desire for social distance). The population included potential employers of the SMI person in the greater Durban area, eThekwini District, KwaZulu-Natal. The target population was all students enrolled for a part-time management course at two academic institutions in the Durban central area. Non-randomized, non-probability purposive sampling was used. Demographic data and four self report tools were compiled into one self report questionnaire to collect data. Results The sample was evenly distributed amongst male and female within the various age groups. All cultural groups were represented but this representation was not a perfect fit with national or provincial population statistics. Just less than half of the participants (48% n=55), both genders and across all cultural groups, had intimate and or personal contact with persons with a serious mental illness. Demographic associations suggest that male participants had greater perceptions of dangerousness, unpredictability and incompetence and a greater desire for social distance. The statistical results indicated limited correlations between emotional reactions and desire for social distance, stigmatizing attitudes and desire for social distance, and evidence of no significant relationship between familiarity and other components within the stigmatizing path. Fear was associated with a desire for social distance and with perceptions of limited potential for recovery. Stigmatising attitudes were most negative towards persons who had a previous admission to a psychiatric hospital and the least negative towards 'bipolar mood disorder'. Stigmatising attitudes were recorded for all serious mental illness labels (including that of bipolar) with 75% of participants scoring closer to the negative polar adjective of stigmatizing attitude. Conclusion and Recommendations In conclusion, the supposed lack of desire for social distance, the dependent variable in this study, may reflect political policy and current ideology but the strength of the negative stereotypes suggests that changing policy is easier than changing attitudes. It is suggested that the stigmatizing stereotype of limited potential for recovery may have more salience in developing countries such as South African than the developed western world. Limited potential for recovery has financial and emotional implication within a developing country and to this extent, desire for social distance and fear are correlated to perceptions of limited potential for recovery. Recommendations include additional research include measures of social desirability bias to clarify the relationship between familiarity, emotional reaction and social distance. Secondly, intervention studies, specifically with potential employers, are required to obtain empirical data related to the combine effectiveness of disconfirming information and contact with people with a serious mental illness. Further, that health departments actively engage in evidence based anti-stigma initiatives. Lastly it is recommended nursing curricula recognise the importance of student psychiatric nurses developing a balanced view of mental health care users assigned the serious mental illness labels through a balanced clinical exposure to recovered, as well as acutely ill mental health care users. That the new undergraduate nursing degree curricula strengthen content related to recovery and psychosocial rehabilitation, specifically nursing interventions / strategies to facilitate rehabilitation in all the areas of study, socialization, community living, and specifically in the area of work.


Master of Nursing in Mental Health. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, 2010.