Effects of Ethnicity on American Children’s Attitudes About Mental Illness Open Access

Approximately 44.7 million adults in the United States experience mental illness in a given year. Yet in 2016, only 43% of those adults suffering from a mental health condition received mental health services (SAMHSA, 2017), largely because of the negative stigma associated with mental illness in the United States. Culture also plays an indisputable role in the conversation about mental health, reflected in the differences in prevalence of mental disorders, attitudes towards mental illness, and the subsequent utilization of mental health services among various racial and ethnic groups (Asnaani, Richey, Dimalite, Hinton, & Hoffman, 2010, SAMHSA, 2015). Half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14, three-quarters by age 24 (Kessler, Chiu, Demler, & Walters, 2005). Therefore, it is in the interest of children, families, and future generations to attempt to better understand the formation of mental health stigma among children. To further investigate the relationship between race/ethnicity and stigmatization of mental illness among American children, this study recruited 37 children age 9 to 11 from a variety of organizations such as YMCAs, community centers, and extracurricular programs in Washington, D.C. and Massachusetts. Participants read two short stories about hypothetical classmates exhibiting signs of either depression or conduct disorder, two of the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders among children. With a parent’s consent, participants then filled out a questionnaire that was adopted from the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s Opening Minds initiative (MHCC, 2013). The questionnaire used a Likert scale to measure implicit stereotyped attributions and social tolerance regarding individuals with a mental disorder. Each item was given a score of 1 to 5 in such a way that higher scores indicated greater levels of stigmatization. Stigma scores combined stereotype and social tolerance scores. Parents filled out a demographic questionnaire, listing the child’s race/ethnicity and his or her exposure to mental illness within the immediate family. Preliminary analyses on this sample indicated that mean stigma scores were statistically significantly greater for the 25 participants belonging to a minority group (M=3.19) than for the 12 European Americans (M=2.67, t(37)=2.95, p<.01). These results highlight the need for culturally specific strategies for combatting mental health stigma among American children. Further data collection is currently still in progress.

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