Published: 2018-12-26

Stigma among doctors towards people with mental illness

Bishnu Sharma, Harshavardhan Sampath, Geeta Soohinda, Sanjiba Dutta


Background: Stigma towards adults with mental illness is a longstanding and widespread phenomenon. Stigmatizing attitudes are prevalent not only among the general population but also among doctors. Negative stereotyping of people with mental illness (PMI) leads to prejudice and discrimination, affecting all aspects of their medical care and well-being. The present study attempted to explore stigmatizing attitudes among doctors towards PMI.

Methods: The research was observational and cross-sectional in design carried out on doctors in a medical college. Socio-demographic data including field of specialization, experience, and academic post were recorded. The community attitudes towards mental illness (CAMI) and social distance scale were administered. Social desirability bias was corrected for by using the Marlowe-Crowne social desirability scale.

Results: Around 54 doctors from the specializations of medicine (n=24), surgery (n=19), and non-clinical fields (n=11) participated. We found no significant differences in attitudes towards mentally ill and social distance between medical specializations (p-values >0.05) even after adjusting for the effects of social desirability bias. Years of specialization experience (p=0.037) and having a family member or close friend with mental illness (p=0.012) were significantly associated with higher scores in the community mental health ideology sub-scale of CAMI. Higher social restrictiveness (p=0.014) and lower community mental health ideology (p=0.008) were associated with greater social distance from PMI.

Conclusions: Doctors are not immune to biases and stigmatizing attitudes towards PMI. These attitudes are present across all fields of medical specialization and must be addressed by mental health professionals to ensure optimal care of this vulnerable population.


Attitudes, Mentally ill, Social distance, Stigma

Full Text:



Hayward P, Bright JA. Stigma and mental illness: A review and critique. J Ment Heal. 1997;6(4):345-54.

Byrne P. Stigma of mental illness and ways of diminishing it. Adv Psychiat Treat 2000;6(1):65-72.

Thara R, Srinivasan TN. How stigmatising is schizophrenia in India? Int J Soc Psychiatry. 2000;46(2):135-41.

Corrigan PW, Druss BG, Perlick DA. The impact of mental illness stigma on seeking and participating in mental health care. Psychol Sci Pub Int. 2014;15(2):37-70.

Byrne P. Psychiatric stigma. Brit J Psychiat. 2001;178(3):281-4.

Smith AL, Cashwell CS. Stigma and mental illness: Investigating attitudes of mental health and non-mental health professionals and trainees. J Humanist Educ Dev. 2010;49(2):189-202.

Sayce L. Stigma, discrimination and social exclusion: What's in a word? J Ment Health. 1998;7(4):331-43.

Mukherjee R, Fialho A, Wijetunge A, Checinski K, Surgenor T. The stigmatisation of psychiatric illness: the attitudes of medical students and doctors in a London teaching hospital. Psychol Bull. 2002;26(5):178-81.

Kallivayalil RA. The importance of psychiatry in undergraduate medical education in India. Indian J Psychiat. 2012;54(3):208.

Chawla JM, Balhara YP, Rajesh Sagar S. Undergraduate medical students’ attitude toward psychiatry: A cross-sectional study. Ind J Psychiat. 2012;54(1):37.

Naeem F, Ayub M, Javed Z, Irfan M, Haral F, Kingdon D. Stigma and psychiatric illness. A survey of attitude of medical students and doctors in Lahore, Pakistan. J Ayub Med Coll Abbottabad. 2006;18(3):46-9.

Vibha P, Saddichha S, Kumar R. Attitudes of ward attendants towards mental illness: Comparisons and predictors. Int J Soc Psychiatr. 2008;54(5):469-78.

Taylor SM, Dear MJ, Hall GB. Attitudes toward the mentally ill and reactions to mental health facilities. Social Science and Medicine. Part D: Medical Geography. 1979;13(4):281-90.

World Psychiatric Association. The WPA global programme to reduce the stigma and discrimination because of schizophrenia-an interim report 2001. Geneva: World Psychiatric Association. Available at:

Crowne DP, Marlowe D. A new scale of social desirability independent of psychopathology. J Consult Psychol. 1960;24(4):349.

Leite WL, Beretvas SN. Validation of scores on the Marlowe-Crowne social desirability scale and the balanced inventory of desirable responding. Educ Psychol Meas. 2005;65(1):140-54.

Weiten W. Psychology: Themes and variations: Themes and variations. Cengage Learning; 2007.

Edwards A. The Social Desirability Variable in Personality. Assessment and Research. New York: Dryden; 1957.

Gilburt H, Rose D, Slade M. The importance of relationships in mental health care: A qualitative study of service users' experiences of psychiatric hospital admission in the UK. BMC Health Serv Res. 2008;8(1):92.

Lilja L, Hellzén O. Former patients' experience of psychiatric care: a qualitative investigation. Int J Ment Health Nu. 2008;17(4):279-86.