Terror Management Theory and Mental Health Stigma. Testing the worldview defense in mental health professionals
Keywords: mental health stigma, mortal salience, mental health workers, worldview defense
AbstractPeople with mental health disorders experience exclusion and discrimination due to mental health stigma which includes misconceptions, negative attitudes and stereotypes against them. According to the Terror Management Theory, the worldview defense hypothesis states that mortality salience leads people to cling to their preexisting worldview. The aim of this study was to investigate, through a quasi-experimental design, the effect of mortality salience condition on stigma of mental illness among mental health professionals. The study involved 81 participants (79.0% women, mean age: 33.8 years, 43 in the experimental group) of which 47 (58%) psychologists, 23(28.4%) social workers, and 11 (13.6%) psychiatrists. Two questionnaires (experimental and control group) were shared via internet, including the Social Dominance Orientation tool, the Mortality Attitudes Personality Survey, the PANAS scale, a scale to evaluate Mental Health Stigma perceptions for people suffering from Depression, Anxiety / Panic Disorders and Schizophrenia, using 9 clusters of statements (e.g. “are isolated,” “cannot work normally,” “have self-destructive tendencies,” “pose a risk to others”) and a scale to evaluate out of workplace contact with people with mental disorders. The experimental group (Mortality Salience) showed systematically lower rates of stigma scores regarding people suffering from Anxiety and Depression. Participants having out of work contacts with people with mental conditions showed lower stigma scores for Schizophrenia in the experimental group. Social Dominance Orientation was positively related to mental health stigma in the total sample; however, when examined in the experimental and the control group separately, there were not statistically significant correlations. The findings of the present study confirm to some extent the worldview defense hypothesis. A potential explanation to this might be that the activation of personal vulnerability triggers the activation of systems of subjective sense of vulnerability which then mobilize mental health professionals to be attached to their worldview and be supportive to stigmatized groups suffering from mental health illness.