We are much more likely to avoid social contact with someone who has a mental illness than a physical illness, especially if we have never had a close relationship with a person who has experienced mental illness.
Hamish Holewa talks to Dr Anthony Jorm about his research into the personal characteristics and experiences that influence our desire for social contact with the mentally ill.
Research shows we are more likely to avoid contact if we are older, have a lower level of education, have seen negative media reports, believe that mental illness is genetic and caused by a personal weakness that could be overcome with willpower, or if the person is male or has a long-term condition. However the greatest determinant is whether or not we have known someone with a mental illness closely. The exception is mental health professionals, whose desire for social distance is similar to that of the general public.
The research recommends challeng ing attitudes about the causes of mental illness through public awareness campaigns and the need for further research that goes beyond questionnaires and that study people's behaviour in real life.