An Investigation into the Attitudes of Physical Therapy Students toward People with Mental Illness

Abstract

Stigma presents a major barrier to participation in important life activities by people with mental illness. Physical therapists provide health care for people with mental illness as well as those without it, therefore attitudes and negative beliefs that they hold can interfere with providing optimal health care. Knowing the extent to which these biases exist can provide support in planning educational opportunities to change them. The purpose of this research study is to examine how physical therapy students in Bouve College perceive, or stigmatize, people with mental illness. We will be administering a written survey to all physical therapy students attending Bouve College to elicit their views of people with mental illness and the associated stigmas they hold. Novelli’s 2006 HealthStyles Survey has been validated survey with other populations, but never used with physical therapy students. We will then analyze the results of the surveys to determine the frequency of stigmatizing beliefs and if there is any difference between the beliefs of older and younger students, or between males and females. We hypothesize that students who are at an earlier point in the education will have a greater amount of stigma towards people with mental illness than the students who are finishing up their physical therapy education. The conclusions that we draw will help us to suggest to the Northeastern University Physical Therapy Department ways to change the curriculum so that students have less stigma towards people with mental illness.