Educating the Public About Mental Illness and Homelessness: A Cautionary Note

Objective: To determine whether the viewing of a video depicting the successful struggles of homeless persons with mental illness in finding and maintaining housing can have a positive impact on attitudes toward homeless persons with mental illness. (Authors)

Method: Five hundred and seventy-five high school students attending a brief educational session on mental illness participated in 1 of 3 comparison versions of the 2-hour program (control, video, video plus discussion). All completed an “Attitudes toward Homelessness and Mental Illness Questionnaire.” Demographic and prior exposure variables were entered as covariates in between-group analyses of variance.

Results: Females and subjects who had more prior encounters with homeless persons were found to have the most positive attitudes. After controlling for these effects, the video alone had a negative impact on attitudes relative to the other groups, while the video followed by a discussion with one of the people featured in it had a largely positive impact.

Conclusions: The apparent immediacy and the evocative power of video presentations cannot substitute for direct contact for the purpose of promoting positive attitude change. The findings are consistent with prior research emphasizing the importance of direct interaction with members of stigmatized groups to reduce negative attitudes. Education programs trying to destigmatize mental illness and homelessness using videos should proceed with caution. (Authors)

Publication Date: 
Journal Name: 
Canadian Journal of Psychiatry