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 Table of Contents  
ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Year : 2016  |  Volume : 32  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 315-319

Perceptions and attitudes of students of mass communication toward mental illness in Nigerian Tertiary Institution


Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine, Ekiti State University, Ado Ekiti, Nigeria

Date of Web Publication9-Nov-2016

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Lateef Olutoyin Oluwole
Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine, Ekiti State University,Ado Ekiti
Nigeria
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/0971-9962.193650

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  Abstract 

Background: The power of the modern mass media is not limited to its ability to communicate information and entertain but derives primarily from its ability to define situations, thereby enabling it to construct social reality. Stigma is related to negative stereotyping and prejudicial attitudes that in turn lead to discriminatory practices. Aims: The study sought to know the perceptions of and attitudes of mass communication students towards mental illness and the mentally ill. Settings and Design: The study population comprised of final year Diploma students of Mass Communication of a foremost tertiary institution in Nigeria. Methods and Material: The World Psychiatric Association questionnaire measuring attitudes towards Schizophrenia was modified and administered to the students. Results: Study also showed only one-fifth of all respondents had contact with either an advert or a promotion about mental illness. About three-quarter (74.1%) of those who had come in contact with information on mental illness had done so through audiovisuals including television and radio. More than half of the students ranked environmental factors foremost among causes of mental illness. Majority of the students (85.9%) would definitely not marry someone with mental illness. Conclusions: The enormous potential and influence the media has on mental health issues would require that mental health professionals provide great input into the enlightenment program for these young and mental health-naïve potential image makers.

Keywords: Attitudes, mental illness, Nigeria, perceptions, students


How to cite this article:
Oluwole LO, Obadeji A, Dada MU. Perceptions and attitudes of students of mass communication toward mental illness in Nigerian Tertiary Institution. Indian J Soc Psychiatry 2016;32:315-9

How to cite this URL:
Oluwole LO, Obadeji A, Dada MU. Perceptions and attitudes of students of mass communication toward mental illness in Nigerian Tertiary Institution. Indian J Soc Psychiatry [serial online] 2016 [cited 2020 Apr 9];32:315-9. Available from: http://www.indjsp.org/text.asp?2016/32/4/315/193650


  Introduction Top


Public understanding about mental illnesses and attitudes toward Person(s) with mental illness (PWMI) play a paramount role in the prevention and treatment of mental illness and the rehabilitation of PWMI.[1]

The power of the modern mass media is not limited to its ability to communicate information and entertain but derives primarily from its ability to define situations, thereby enabling it to construct social reality.[2],[3] The mass media are strongly implicated in the stigmatizing views held by the public toward PWMI.[4] The sharing of stigma becomes an element of a society that creates, condones, and maintains stigmatizing attitudes and behaviors.[5] Stigma is related to negative stereotyping and prejudicial attitudes that in turn lead to discriminatory practices.

Bhugra observed many myths and misunderstandings about mental illness persist, and thus stated that the biggest problem for PWMI is the fact that “even when they are feeling better, others do not accept them.”[6] People suffering from mental illness feel the sting of discrimination in almost everything they do. They become isolated and cut off from the society.[7]

Television, radio, and newspapers play an essential role in the public perception of mental illness to the extent of people’s reasoning and behavior. The misperceptions about PWMI range from overgeneralizations about the perceived dangerousness to stereotypes about the PWMI being “too lazy.”[8] Thus, stigma is generally a result of illogical generalization, lack of knowledge, and fear about people who are different from oneself.[9],[10],[11]


  Methods Top


The study population comprised final year diploma students of mass communication of a foremost tertiary institution in Nigeria. This group of students was presumed not to have as much professional exposure as the practicing media practitioners.

The sample frame for the study is the entire population of the final year diploma students. The total number of the students was 180. A pilot study was carried out among 15 students.

Permission to conduct the study was obtained from the authority of the school and informed oral consent was also obtained from the students. Anonymity and confidentiality were assured by using serial numbering of questionnaires.

Questionnaires were distributed among the students during a general lecture period when all the final year students were to come together. The option of administering the questionnaires to the students same day was taken in view of the reality encountered usually with the students population; lecture period has been a suitable time, they could be adequately available. The students’ seats were adequately spaced so that they did not exchange views while responding to the questionnaire.

The questionnaire used has two Sections A and B. Section A enquires about the sociodemographic characteristics of the respondents. Section B is adapted from an instrument which was part of a tool kit developed for the world psychiatric association program to reduce stigma and discrimination because of schizophrenia. This tool kit had been validly used in some previous studies.[12],[13] Originally, it is a thirty-item self-administered community survey questionnaire measuring attitudes toward persons with schizophrenia in Calgary region of Alberta, Canada. The questionnaire sought to know: (i) The extent of the respondents’ exposure to schizophrenia and PWMI, (ii) the respondents’ knowledge of schizophrenia, i.e., causes and treatment, (iii) the attitudes of respondents to persons with schizophrenia.

A modified version of this questionnaire was used in a community study in Nigeria.[14] In the study, the original questionnaire was modified by substituting the term “mental illness” for “schizophrenia,” and specific items relating to the symptoms of schizophrenia were deleted.

Data analysis was done using the sixteenth version of Statistical Package for Social Sciences program (SPSS) for Windows, Version 16.0 (Chicago, SPSS Inc). Statistical methods used include frequency tables to highlight important and relevant data.


  Results Top


The questionnaires were administered to 180 students. Only 170 (94.4%) questionnaires were analyzable. Seven students did not return their questionnaires, whereas three students did not fill their questionnaire adequately and were therefore excluded from the data analysis. The respondents’ ages ranged between 17 and 27 years with a mean age of 20.8 (standard deviation 2.1) years. Majority (67.1%) were Christians and a preponderance of females (64.1%). Ninety-six percent respondents were of Yoruba tribe of the Southwest Nigeria. About three-quarter (74.1%) of those who had come in contact with information on mental illness had done so through audiovisuals including television and radio. Sources such as the internet and books were least reckoned with for information on issues of mental illness, among the students.

Exposure of respondents to either mental illness or contact with services or facilities caring for PWMI revealed only about one-fifth of the students (i.e. 34 students [20.0%]) have had contact with mental health promotion and/or facilities. Only two (1.2%) indicated they had worked with an organization providing mental health services or with PWMI. Thirty-four (20%) students admitted they were being influenced, to some extent, by their exposure to mental health services or contact with PWMI.

Environmental-related causes were the most cited by more than half (55.3%) of the respondents. Stress is the most mentioned among the environmental causes. Drug-related problems ranked second among medical causes of mental illness cited by the students. Twelve percent of the respondents cited supernatural influence as possible causes of mental illness.

Perceptions of respondents about mental illness

As shown in [Table 1], more than three-fifth of the students did believe that mental illness could be frequently treated outside hospital. About half of the students were of the opinion that PWMI are either “often” or “frequently” tend to be mentally retarded or of lower intelligence. Four out of five students believed PWMI need prescription drugs to control their symptoms.
Table 1: Perceptions of respondents about mental illness

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About half of the students perceived PWMI are a public nuisance. Majority of the students believed PWMI could not work in a regular job. Majority of the participants in this study were of the opinion that PWMI are dangerous to the public because of violent behavior.

How respondents would feel in certain situations

[Table 2] shows how respondents would feel in certain situations when they encounter someone with mental illness. About four-fifth of students admitted they would either “probably” or “definitely” feel afraid of conversing with PWMI.Only two-third of the respondents would “probably/definitely” be upset about working in the same job with PWMI.
Table 2: How respondents would feel in certain situations toward the mentally ill

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The attitudes of maintaining a friendship with someone who has mental illness would not be considered by about two-fifth. Two-third of the students reported they would feel ashamed if they knew someone in their family has been diagnosed with mental illness. Majority of the students (85.9%) would definitely not marry someone with mental illness, whereas only about three-fifth would “definitely/probably” be upset or disturbed about sharing a room with PWMI.

Attitudes toward various options for dealing with mental illness

More than three-quarter recommends more institutions for PWMI to be kept. Almost all of the respondents agreed on the need to conduct more research on the causes and treatment of mental illness. The group also feels more emphasis should be placed on the use of medication and public education, while the family and friends of sufferers of mental illness should be more involved in their care.


  Discussion Top


Students of mass communication may not be so different from students of other disciplines; this author, however, considered the responsibility as future or potential media practitioners who are unique and potent in their role of portraying issues concerning mental health in the eye of the public.

The study is conducted to determine the students’ perceptions about mental illness: their attitudes and opinions toward PWMI. It is pertinent to know whether these views were dependent, as students, on their knowledge of, and exposure to mental health principles.

The remarkable response rate of 96% among the students could be explained by the timing and “capturing” method of administering the questionnaire while a lecture period they seemed obliged to attend. The respondents were predominantly females. However, the reason for the preference for this course of study among the females is unclear.

About 50% of the respondents in the study who, recently, had information about mental illness did so through audiovisual broadcasting awareness and advocacy program about mental health. This is in consonant with reports by Rose, and Hottentot, who cited 70% as a mark of the popularity of television newsmagazine among the public in the United States.[15],[16] The television has been considered the most popular among the media practitioners perhaps because it allows closer ties with the populace.

The internet ranks among the least mentioned sources of information by the respondents (0.6%) about mental illness. This is rather surprising, while this may not be explained by the problem of accessibility and affordability. A Nigerian survey on the use of internet among undergraduate students reported a significant use.[17] The wide gap observed in the use of the internet may be adduced to the problem of the reality that Nigerian youth do not harness the internet to access knowledge-based information. The students in this study could have been more concerned about materials or information that are of immediate or direct relevance to their course of study. This is similar to the observation made by Ahmad et al. that there might be a difference between the time a student spends on the internet and the use of internet for academic activity according to his or her field of study.[18]

Majority of the respondents involved never worked in organization providing mental healthcare or mental health advocacy. The truth regarding this is the dearth of such organization in this part of the world. In many developing countries, mental health advocacy groups have not yet been formed or are in their infancy.[19]

The attendant stigma of mental illness may be responsible for the possible concealment of the facts of history or association with mental illness. This is reflected in the study; while only one-third of the respondents in the study admitted they had been exposed to treatment for mental illness, majority (77%), however, did not agree mental illness influenced them in any way. This, in a way, may be a major denial by respondents.

Environmental factors, including stress, have been the most mentioned causes of mental illness by the respondents. About half of the respondents ranked environmental factors, such as physical and emotional or psychological stress, foremost among other causes of mental illness. This finding is consistent with that of some other authors. Similar findings were made by a South African study of which most of the respondents considered mental illness as being stress-related rather than having medical etiology.[20] Less than one-fifth of the respondents in this study attached less importance to the “supernatural” as a cause of mental illness, with only about a tenth of them citing varying supernatural beliefs as possible causes of mental illness. This is in contrast to another Nigerian study which reported 49% prevalence concerning belief in supernatural factors as the cause of mental illness.[21] Further, studies in other developing countries such as Malaysia, Ethiopia, and Pakistan indicated supernatural causes of mental illness as being significant.

Beliefs about mental illness

About half of the students in the study considered PWMI as having lower intelligence or being mentally retarded. However, low IQ may be a consequence of mental disease or a causal factor in psychotic and nonpsychotic disorders.[22]

Less than half of the students saw PWMI as a public nuisance due to odd behavior, while three-quarter considered PWMI as dangerous to the public because of violent behavior. The public often sees PWMI as being violent. However, this may not be the case, the vast majority of PWMI are not violent. The recurring theme of extreme violence among the mentally ill characters is the norm in mass media portrayals. Rose (1998) argued this portrayal pose a threat in giving an overwhelming negative focus.[15]

About eighty percent of the students believed PWMI could “never/rarely” work in a regular job. People with psychiatric disability have fewer opportunities to work than the general population, mostly owing to the many misperceptions and prejudices about their abilities and needs.

Respondents’ attitude toward persons with mental illness

Beliefs in a way may influence individuals’ perceptions and consequently their attitudes. Thus, the dearth of knowledge inferred from respondents’ beliefs about PWMI would probably explain some of the negative attitudes expressed toward PWMI.

About 80% of the students indicated they would be afraid to have conversation with PWMI. Similarly, about 70%, respectively, would be upset working on the same job. While about three-fifths would maintain friendship with PWMI, about nine-tenth would not marry someone with mental illness. The fact that majority of the respondents in this study had little or no exposure to PWMI may explain the significant social distance they are willing to maintain with persons suffering from mental illness. In their own study, however, Odejide and Olatawura found many of the psychiatric nurses held no objection to marrying ex-psychiatric patients because of their day-to-day interactions with PWMI.[23] Another study among Nigerian medical students revealed they were more likely to have negative attitudes toward patients with mental illness and to desire social distance.[24] However, a more recent study revealed most of the Iranian medical students had generally favorable attitudes toward PWMI at the end of their clerkship.[25] Familiarity with someone with a mental illness is associated with less perceived dangerousness, less fear, and consequently, less social distance.[26],[27],[28]

Furthermore, majority of the students (79%) would be afraid of conversing with a PWMI. Similarly, two-third of the respondents would feel ashamed of a family member having mental illness. Three-fifth of the students would feel upset sharing a room with someone who has mental illness. This is not unexpected given their possible exposure to prejudicial information about mental illness and their negative beliefs about mental illness. It is worthy of note, however, that to combat this ill-fitting stereotype, some media sources have attempted to document an accurate and realistic depiction of mental illness. Research by Stresing and Bass found that media exposure to mental illness has desensitized the public to mental illness, allowing some positive acceptance.[29]

Respondents in this study were more inclined to opt for interventions that would seemingly get rid of PWMI from their environment or community. Thus, more respondents preferred more institutionalization; small group homes. Wolff et al. reported a minority of respondents had objections to ex-psychiatric patients living in their neighborhood.[30] It is important to note that a greater proportion of the respondents emphasized medication, more research and greater family involvement in the management options of PWMIs. Besides their negative beliefs and attitudes, the significance of these options as noted by the respondents implies holistic concerns for PWMI.


  Conclusion Top


This study has revealed a dearth of knowledge about mental illness among the potential and future media practitioners. Media messages and effects in the area of mental illness have been predominantly negative. Because of the enormous potential and influence the media has on mental health issues, it is germane that mental health professionals provide great input into the enlightenment program for these young and mental health-naïve potential image makers. In light of what Gandy has termed “information subsidies” to the media, mental health professional; needs to do more in achieving control over information the media communicates to the public.[31]

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest

 
  References Top

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