Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Stephen Hinshaw

The OUP blog conducted a Q & A with Stephen Hinshaw, author of The Mark of Shame: Stigma of Mental Illness and an Agenda for Change, and a Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of California at Berkeley.

One part of the interview:

OUP: In your book you claim that public attitudes towards mental illness are more negative now than they were a century ago, what is this assertion based on? How can you measure public attitudes?

Hinshaw: There are several ways to measure attitudes and beliefs. The most common - questionnaires of "explicit" attitudes - continue to reveal that severe mental illness is feared and stigmatized, even more than during the 1950s, which is a paradox, because there is so much more knowledge and openness today. It may well be that mental illness continues to bring up associations with violence, danger, threat, and incompetence, as well as personal weakness. But such questionnaires are susceptible to 'trying to look good' and may reveal only the tip of the iceberg regarding actual levels of stigma.

Newer research deals with "implicit" attitudes, those expressed quickly and unconsciously. Implicit measures of racial bias show that it exists strongly, even in people who fail to admit prejudice on traditional questionnaires. These kinds of measures are just beginning to be applied to mental disorder.

Still other ways of assessing prejudice, discrimination, and stigma are also quite revealing. In behavioral research, it's actual social interactions that are key -- and these reveal that if a person expects to be interacting with someone with mental illness, distancing and even punitive behavior result. This is especially the case when mental illness is branded as completely genetic. Some thought that putting mental illness into the medical model (replacing earlier beliefs that mental illness resulted from evil spirits ... or, more recently, from bad parenting) would eliminate stigma. Yet simplistic, all-or-none biogenetic attributions may make mental illness seem hopeless, permanent, and even subhuman.

Read the entire Q & A.

Hinshaw put The Mark of Shame to the Page 69 Test.

--Marshal Zeringue