Violent and Unpredictable: Perceptions of Victims of Crime Who Are Living With a Mental Health Problem

Andersen, Joshua
Landhuis, Erik
Wood, Jay
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Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Psychology
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Auckland University of Technology

Public perceptions of mental illness are largely derived from stigmas and social norms that perpetuate punitive and discriminative rhetoric. In regard to illnesses like schizophrenia, these perceptions are overwhelmingly associated with violence and the threat of harm. Recent academic literature has questioned this notion. Our study explored how varying stigmas can influence perceptions of mock newspaper articles that depict a violent assault of which the victim has a mental illness. Members of the public (n = 106) were randomly assigned to one of six newspaper depictions of a violent assault, of which the victim was reported to have a mental illness (schizophrenia, depression, no mental illness). To test for the influence of substance use comorbidity, the presence of methamphetamine was also a variable in each mental illness condition. After reading the mock newspaper articles, participants then responded to the Social Distance Scale (Link et al., 1987) to assess participants desired social distance from the victim in the newspaper vignette. Participants also responded to several covariate measures that helped us better understand the judgements made in relation to the vignette. The results of our study suggest that mental illness alone did not substantially alter participant perceptions of mental illness. However, when factoring for methamphetamine presence, participants in the schizophrenia conditions reported significantly lower levels of desired social distance and subsequent stigma than those in control conditions. Future research could seek to better explore the interaction between mental illness and crime victimisation. As such, the implications of research in this domain work to resolve the prevalence of discriminative social stigma both within academic and public spheres.

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