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Psychiatric Briefs

Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry 2009;11(4):177
Background: General practitioners (GPs), past research has shown, have negative attitudes toward patients with schizophrenia, attitudes that do not merely acknowledge the nature or chronic aspects of the illness. This study sought to characterize the attitudes and predicted conduct of medical students toward patients with mental illness in a primary care setting and to examine if the students’ level of training influenced these attitudes.

Method: One of 4 case vignettes was given to a sample of 1239 students from the University of Birmingham Medical School. The vignettes were identical except that the patient involved was characterized as having been diagnosed previously with either schizophrenia, depression, diabetes, or no illness. Students rated their level of agreement with 12 attitudinal statements relating to the vignette.

Results: A total of 1081 students (88%) responded to the questionnaire. Patients with either schizophrenia or depression elicited responses from students that were generally less favorable. The students would be less happy to have such individuals as patients, believed they would consume more time, and thought that they would be less likely to comply with advice and treatment. The risk of violence, the potential welfare of children, and the possibility of illegal drug and excessive alcohol use were expressed concerns. These reactions were affected very little by general clinical and psychiatric training.

Conclusions: Patients with mental illness provoke less favorable responses in medical students, responses that are not a function of education. That students develop an empathetic and positive approach to mental health patients and their treatment should be ensured by re-evaluating undergraduate primary care–based mental health education.