Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Addiction terminology affects clinicians' attitudes towards patients

Stigma remains one of the biggest reasons that people delay seeking treatment for mental health and addiction problems. Films and other forms of mass media often depict people with psychiatric conditions in stereotyped and demeaning ways. Partly as a result, people in the general public develop negative and judgmental attitudes toward people with mental health problems.

A study suggests that even trained professionals may be susceptible to the effects of stigmatizing language. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital randomly distributed two versions of a written survey to clinicians attending conferences on mental health and addiction. More than 500 clinicians completed the surveys.

The surveys began with a brief description of a hypothetical patient, "Mr. Williams," who was finding it difficult to participate in a court-ordered addiction treatment program. The surveys asked participants to indicate how much they agreed or disagreed with each of 32 statements about Mr. Williams.

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