5062.0: Wednesday, November 15, 2000 - 9:45 AM

Abstract #8866

The Future of the Stigma of Mental Illness in the New Age of Genetics

Jo C. Phelan, PhD1, Bruce G. Link, PhD2, Marian Reiff, PhD1, and Rosangely Cruz-Rojas, MPH1. (1) Mailman School of Public Health, Division of Sociomedical Sciences, Columbia University, 600 W 168th St, New York, NY 10032, 212-305-0406, jcp13@columbia.edu, (2) Mailman School of Public Health, Division of Epidemiology, Columbia University, 100 Haven Ave. #20H, 10032

Introduction: At this time, families affected by mental illnesses are seriously stigmatized. We ask how this stigma may change as new discoveries are made about genetic bases of mental illnesses. Will stigma be reduced, because mental illnesses are seen as more biological and thus "an illness like any other"? Will stigma become magnified, because genetic influences make mental illnesses seem more immutable and inextricably attached to the affected family? Methods: Semi-structured interviews are conducted with 50 people of varying ethnic backgrounds in New York City. We describe hypothetical individuals with mental illnesses and ask about respondents' beliefs and attitudes about these individuals and their families (e.g., social distance, beliefs about whether the individual will face stigma, whether they should have children, whether the illness can be treated, and whether they or their parents are responsible for causing the illness). We then introduce the idea that the illness is influenced by genetic factors and reassess respondents' attitudes in the light of this information. Results: Preliminary results suggest that genetic etiology has complex and multifaceted effects on stigma. For example, genetic etiology does not seem to affect "casual" social distance (e.g., working with the individual in question) but it does increase "intimate"social distance (e.g., having the person marry into one's family) from both the ill person and his brother. Conclusions: It appears that the genetics revolution will influence the future of stigma. It is important to anticipate these influences so that negative outcomes can be minimized and positive ones enhanced.

Learning Objectives: Our objective is to raise awareness in the audience that scientific and technical advances in the field of genetics will have social ramifications, including the way that families affected by genetically influenced illnesses are viewed and treated by others

Keywords: Mental Illness, Genetics

Presenting author's disclosure statement:
Organization/institution whose products or services will be discussed: None
I do not have any significant financial interest/arrangement or affiliation with any organization/institution whose products or services are being discussed in this session.

The 128th Annual Meeting of APHA