Background. Stigmatizing attitudes to mental illness, and especially schizophrenia, are not limited to the general population but are also common among health professionals. Health professionals are in a position to model health related attitudes both in the general public and patients. Medical students are an interesting group to focus upon, since they are future health professionals and correcting stigmatizing attitudes is still possible during their educational curriculum.

Methods. This study investigated the attitude toward mental illness in medical students at the Iuliu Hatieganu University of Medicine and Pharmacy. We surveyed first year students, since they have not yet received specific classes or internships in psychiatry; 322 students from the Romanian and English sections participated, representing a response rate of 94.7%. The questionnaire consisted of the Romanian and English versions of Link's Social Distance Scale towards people with mental illness scale.

Results. Overall, medical students had a relatively negative attitude towards people with mental illness, with moderate social distance and stereotypical attitudes. The level of personal contact with people with mental illness was correlated with positive attitudes. International students had scored lower then Romanian students on social distance toward mentally ill patients.

Conclusions. Medical education can play an important role in the attitudes of students toward mental illness. Medical students have stigmatizing attitudes about mentally ill patients. Personal contact with people suffering from mental illness might contribute to a positive attitude from the medical students toward mentally ill patients.


stigma, mental illness, medical students, medical education