Viewing a documentary on people diagnosed with schizophrenia can prevent and reduce stigmatization of people with this mental illness, suggests a study.

The study’s 49 participants were divided into two groups; one of the groups viewed a documentary film on people with schizophrenia and the other group received no intervention. At the beginning of the study, all participants were queried through questionnaires about stereotypes they held about people with schizophrenia, the amount of social distance they wanted to have from people with schizophrenia, and their emotional reactions and behavioral tendencies toward people with the mental illness. Participants in the documentary group watched the documentary within 1 week of answering such questions. About 1 week after the initial assessment, participants from both groups answered the questions included in the questionnaires again.

The responses to questions of study participants in both groups at the beginning of the research project did not significantly differ from one another. Fewer stereotypes of patients with schizophrenia related to dangerousness and unpredictability were reported as being held by the documentary group in the second round of questioning, compared with this group’s responses to the first round of questioning. An additional finding of the study was that “the willingness for social distance” from people with schizophrenia “significantly declined” in the documentary group members, after they viewed the film; in contrast, such a decline did not occur in the members of the control group.

“These findings are promising as they suggest that a documentary film promoting direct contact with people diagnosed with schizophrenia does not only have an effect on increasing knowledge about that illness but also on improving certain attitudes towards people diagnosed with schizophrenia,” said Bénédicte Thonon of the University of Liège (Belgium) and his colleagues.

Future initiatives aimed at educating the public on people with schizophrenia “should aim at changing the incompetence stereotype in order to modify emotional and behavioral reactions. They also should offer more than one indirect contact with a stigmatized person or group of stigmatized people,” according to the researchers.

Read the study in Journal of Behavior Therapy in Experimental Psychology ( doi: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2015.08.001 ).