CREATING GLOBAL MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS IN STUDENTS: A PRELIMINARY STUDY
In the United States, the incidence of mental illness is 26.4 percent (Murray and Lopez, 1996), and ethnic and minority groups constitute 32.7 percent of those afflicted with mental illness (SAMHSA, 1999). An increase in global immigration suggests that there is an increasing need to create an awareness of the global aspects in mental health. One approach is to address these issues within psychology curricula in an academic setting.
In an abnormal psychology course, students are taught the scientific definition, etiology, contributing factors, and treatment of specific psychiatric and psychological disorders. Within the course, there are usually discussions of multicultural issues within those disorders. However, the term ‘multicultural’ refers to the ethnic and cultural differences between various groups in a particular nation. The comparisons of abnormal behavior across and between cultures (cross-cultural) and nations (global) may not be well addressed in the course curriculum. Therefore, in a preliminary study, the need for understanding the global and cross-cultural aspects of abnormal psychology was examined.
The study covered two phases. In the first phase, students in an undergraduate abnormal psychology class at Marist College (Poughkeepsie, New York) were introduced to global and cross-cultural issues related to the diagnosis stigmatization of mental illness. In addition, worldwide psycho-socio-cultural and economic equity in treatment of psychiatric and psychological illness was covered. During the course, students were exposed to the above mentioned topics through scientific literature, multimedia presentation by leading professionals in the field, case studies, and class discussions. Students were then asked to write reaction papers on the material presented. The reaction papers and class discussion responses clearly showed that the students had not previously thought about or understood the cross-cultural and global implications within psychological disorders. In addition, the students expressed the need for incorporating these aspects within the learning of psychological disorders.
In the second phase of the study, the possible stereotypes in the perception of mental illness in multicultural and cross cultural groups were examined in undergraduate college students. Students were presented with a brief vignette describing a person with the symptoms of one of three disorders (schizophrenia, depression, asthma). The person in the vignette was varied across variables such as age, gender, ethnicity, culture, and nationality. After reading the vignette, the students filled out a questionnaire assessing stigmatization of mental disorders across variables such as attributions, and individual and social responses. The questionnaire was adapted from the Stigma and Mental Illness in Cross-National Perspective: The SGC-MHS Interview Schedule (Pescosolido, Long, Martin, & Smith; 2004). The results provided information on stereotypes in stigmatization of mental illness alone, and from a global and cross-cultural perspective. Taken together, the results of both phases of the study support a strong need to address global and cross-cultural mental health issues within a young adult population. The results may provide insights on the incorporation of global aspects of abnormal psychology within the course curriculum.
© 2008 Victor Karandashev