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His and hers: Study examines the role of gender in the stigma of mental illness
Date:3/3/2009

The mentally ill don't get a fair shake in this country. Many employers don't want to hire them, and health insurers don't want to treat their illnesses. Even within their own communities and families, the mentally ill are often treated with contempt and outright anger. There have been many efforts to combat the stigma of mental illness, but with limited success at best. That's in part because the stereotypes are so powerful: Mental patients are either violently dangerous or docile and incompetent. We fear the first and disdain the latter.

These are not equal opportunity stereotypes, however. The image of dangerous mental illness, including violent alcoholism, is much more often directed at men. Similarly, women are much more likely to be caricatured as pathologically dependent and depressed. Psychologists James Wirth of Purdue and Galen Bodenhausen of Northwestern wanted to know if these gender biases contribute to the harmful stigma of mental illness. Specifically, they suspected that when the mentally ill act "out of character," violating the stereotype, they might arouse more of our sympathy and leniency; if it's more uncommon, it's probably more authentic. By contrast, we might be more apt to blame and stigmatize the mentally ill when they conform to stereotype.

The psychologists decided to explore this provocative idea with a national survey. They had a group of volunteers from around the country, varying widely in age, education, and socioeconomic status, read a case history of a person with mental illness. Some read about Brian, who was a stereotypical alcoholic, while others read about Karen, who showed all the classical symptoms of major depression. Still others read switched-around versions of these cases, so that Karen was the one abusing alcohol and Brian was depressed. The idea was to see if the typicality of Brian and Karen's symptoms (or lack of it) shaped the volunteers' reactions and judgments.

And it did, without qu
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Contact: Barbara Isanski
bisanski@psychologicalscience.org
Association for Psychological Science
Source:Eurekalert

Page: 1 2

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