Introduction: The stigma attached to mental illness and the mentally ill is a universal phenomenon and a major barrier to the provision of mental health services. Stigmatising attitudes among doctors themselves can result in compromised patient care. The aim of this research project is to study the impact of a clinical posting in psychiatry on the attitudes of medical students to mental illness and to psychiatry. This paper reports the results of the first phase of a longitudinal study. Materials and Methods: A total of 122 year 4 medical students responded to this study. The Attitudes Towards Mental Illness (AMI) and Attitudes Towards Psychiatry (ATP) questionnaires were administered before and after an 8-week attachment in psychiatry. Results: We found that students had somewhat favourable attitudes towards psychiatry and mental illness at the start of their attachment, with a mean score of 108.34 on ATP (neutral score, 90) and 68.24 on AMI (neutral score, 60). There was a significant increase in the mean scores of both scales following the psychiatric attachment for female students (ATP: P = 0.003; AMI: P <0.0005), but not male students (ATP: P = 0.435; AMI: P = 0.283). Conclusions: An 8-week clinical posting of fourth-year medical students in psychiatry was associated with an increase in positive attitudes to mental illness and to psychiatry among female students but not among male students.
Psychiatry as a branch of medicine has seen numerous developments in recent decades. Neurobiological and social science research has improved our understanding of disorders such as major depression and schizophrenia and improved our capacity to provide cost-effective treatment and care. Better understanding and more effective interventions might be expected to improve attitudes, among the general public and among health professionals, to mental illness and to psychiatry.
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