I am involved in, or have recently completed, a number of research projects that concern public understanding of mental illnesses, public attitudes and behaviors towards those living with psychiatric disorders, and the experiences of those with mental illness diagnoses.  Some of these projects are summarized below.


    In this NIMH-funded study of portrayal of mental illnesses in children's television programs, trained raters viewed over 250 hours of children's television programming from nine different channels, including Nickelodeon, Disney, Cartoon Network, and WB.  There were relatively few characters identified as having mental illnesses--21 in 527 programs.  However, those characters tended to be portrayed with negative traits.  In particular, they tended to be unpredictable, cruel, and dangerous villains, similar to the portrayal of mental illnesses in adult media.  In addition, these characters were typically treated badly by other characters--feared, made fun of, or even harmed.  Nearly half of all programs contained terminology related to mental illnesses (e.g., "crazy," "nuts," "mad"), and these terms were typically used to disparage others and their ideas.  Children may be learning not only to associate undesirable traits with mental illnesses, but also that harsh treatment of persons with psychiatric disorders and disrespectful language referrring to psychiatric disorder are acceptable and socially approved.

The results of this research were published in the following journal:

Wahl, O., Hanrahan, E., Karl, K., Lasher, E., & Swaye, J. (2007). The depiction of mental illnesses in children’s television programs. Journal of Community Psychology, 31, 121-133.


Dr. Amy Wood at George Mason University provided a systematic evaluation of NAMI's "In Our Own Voice" (IOOV) program, through which mental health consumers make presentations to varied audiences, including community groups, law enforcement agents, students, families, and other consumers.  The study looked at the impact of the NAMI presentation on the knowledge and attitudes concerning mental illnesses to see whether the program was achieving its aims.  Some groups of college students received the IOOV presentations while others received a presentation about careers in psychology.  Knowledge about mental illnesses, specific attitudes toward psychiatric disorder, and social distance preferences related to people identified as having psychiatric diagnoses were assessed before and after the presentations.  Those receiving the IOOV presentation showed greater knowledge, more positive attitudes, and greater social acceptance related to mental illnesses after the IOOV presentation while those getting the psychology careers presentation showed no change.  Results indicate that the IOOV presentation is effective in improving knowledge, attitudes, and social acceptance related to mental illnesses, at least in a student population.

The results of this research were published in the following journal:

 Wood, A. L., & Wahl, O. W. (2006).  Evaluating the effectiveness of a consumer-provided mental health recovery education  presentation. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 30, 46-52.



Below are some of the projects that doctoral students at the Graduate Institute of Professional Psychology of the University of Hartford have done or are doing for their dissertations.  Descriptions of completed projects are adapted from abstracts provided by the authors.

   1.  Barriers to seeking treatment: Identifying attitudes among the elderly toward mental health services (Ashley Bechtel).

        Attitudes toward mental health care have been shown to impact individual's willingness to seek treatment for mental illnesses.  The current research focused on assessing whether differences exist between older and younger adults' attitudes about metnal health care.  The Attitudes Toward Mental Health Services (ATMHS) scale, a demographic questionnaire, and a level-of-contact with mental illness scale were completed by 47 participants age 65 or older and 96 participants 18-30.  No differences were found in reported attitudes toward mental health services, challenging previous researchers' findings. Both older and younger adults reported generally positive attitudes about mental health treatment.  Individuaols who had more exposure to mental illness were significantly more likely to believe mental health services are effective and perceived less stigma of receiving treatment than did participants with less experience with mental illness.

    2.  Examining the relationship between stigma and subjective quality of life in persons with schizophrenia (Carla Lourenco).

    Although the existant literature suggests that stigma exerts a powerful influence on the quality of life (QoL) of individuals with schizophrenia, the present study is the first to explore the relationship between the self-reported QoL and experienced stigma of community-dwelling adults with schizphrenia and schizoaffective disorders.  Self-report scales designed to assess subjective QoL and experienced stigma were completed by 70 participants.  Results revealed statistically significant relationships between participants' QoL ratings and total stigma scores.  Those who experienced greater stigma also reported a lower quality of life.  Negative social interactions were found to be most salient in the relationship between stigma and QoL.  Experiences of discrimination, althoughly reportedly uncommon, were also found to be strongly associated with life satisfaction.

    3.  Youth experiences with taking medication for mental illness: A review of the literature (Kelly Karl).

    The number of young people diagnosed with a mental illness is increasing and one of the primary treatments for many of these youths is medication.  Taking a medication for and being diagnosed with a mental illness may set these youth apart from their peers and thus may be a source of alienation and stigmatization.  There has been little attention, however, to the impact of taking medication on the experiences and perceptions of those to whom the medications are prescribed.  Only 13 articles could be found in which youth were asked about their experiences and attitudes toward taking medication.  Only one of those involved medications other than those prescribed for ADHD.  The most prevalent theme in reports of youth was dislike of taking medication, even though most recognized the benefits they experienced.  Feelings of embarrassment, shame, and fear of others knowing they take psychiatric medications were also commonly expressed.  

   4.  The stigma of mental illness among youth: A practical guide for child and adolescent therapists.  (Erin Hanrahan).

   Years of research have shown that stigma is a significant problem for many adults coping with and recovering from menal illnesses.  Adults are not the only individuals who confront mental illness, however.  An increasing number of children and adolescents are receiving mental health services.  Many are also experiencing stigma and discrimination as a result.  Recognizing this fact, "A practical guide for child and adolescent therapists" has been developed.  This concise reference is designed for practicing clinicians interested in increasing their knowledge and skill in addressing stigma with their clients, as well as for graduate programs and/or behavioral health organizations encouraging their students and therapists to do so.  The guide includes a summary of and condensation of relevant research as well as a discussion of how therapists can address stigma in their clinical work with clients.

   5.    Stigma and discrimination toward African-American substance abusers (Melanie Scott).