Sunday, October 10, 2010

Is there more or less stigma against a mental illness if people believe it's genetic?

This article looks at the question. The most striking finding: in a metastudy of 19 studies, "18 found that belief in a genetic or biological cause was associated with more negative attitudes to people with mental health problems. Just one found the opposite, that belief in a genetic or biological cause was associated with more positive attitudes."

The writer, Ben Goldacre, juxtaposes those psychological findings with this quote from a professor of neuropsychiatric genetics, responding to research that says ADHD is partly genetic:

"We hope that these findings will help overcome the stigma associated with ADHD . . . . Too often, people dismiss ADHD as being down to bad parenting or poor diet. As a clinician, it was clear to me that this was unlikely to be the case. Now we can say with confidence that ADHD is a genetic disease and that the brains of children with this condition develop differently to those of other children."
As Goldacre observes, anyone who's been campaigning against the stigmatization of mental health disorders seems have a severely mistaken assumption about people's attitudes toward mental health. If you believe someone's behavior comes from their genes, you won't necessarily be more inclined to forgive them. You might look down on them more: it's a problem with the whole person, not just a one-time decision they made. (That may be a very simplistic way to look at it. But I'm just describing how people in general might think; I'm not approving of these views.)


Peter Hoh said...

The idea that there is a genetic basis to mental illness reinforces the idea that mental illness is something that happens to other people.

John Althouse Cohen said...


Anonymous said...

What's the genetic abnormality?