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Moderation by socioeconomic status of the relationship between familiarity with mental illness and stigma outcomes

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Original languageEnglish
Article number100611
JournalSSM - Population Health
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jul 2020


King's Authors


Purpose: Multiple studies suggest response to mental health treatment is worse for people of lower socioeconomic status, a group who also express more mental illness stigma. Worse response to treatment may lead to greater therapeutic pessimism, an important component of stigma. However, familiarity with mental illness is associated with lower levels of stigma. This study therefore examines whether, among the general public, socioeconomic status moderates the relationships between familiarity and stigma related outcomes: knowledge; attitudes; and desire for social distance. Methods: We carried out secondary analysis of data from the Attitudes to Mental Illness survey, collected annually from different general population samples from 2009-17, and every two years from 2017-19. Three separate multiple linear regression models examined factors associated with each outcome, with interaction tests between socioeconomic status and familiarity. Stigma related knowledge was measured using the Mental Health Knowledge Schedule (MAKS), which includes items on treatment effectiveness and recovery, thus addressing aspects of therapeutic pessimism. Attitudes were measured using the Community Attitudes towards the Mentally Ill Scale; and desire for social distance using the Reported and Intended Behaviour scale. Results: In lower socioeconomic groups, personal experience was more frequent, while familiarity with someone else was less frequent. Interaction tests were significant for stigma related knowledge (p<0.0001) and desire for social distance (p=0.0118), but not for attitudes (p=0.057). The direction of the interaction differed between knowledge and the other outcomes. In lower socioeconomic groups the positive effect of familiarity on knowledge was weaker, as hypothesised, but for attitudes and desire for social distance, its effect was stronger. Conclusions: Our results support the promotion of familiarity through encouraging discussion of mental health problems within social networks. However, lower stigma related knowledge among people with personal experience in lower socioeconomic groups suggests different responses to mental illness among these groups are needed.

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