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September 1974

Psychiatric Labeling and the Rehabilitation of the Mental Patient: Implications of Research Findings for Mental Health Policy

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Psychiatry, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, New York (Dr. Schwartz); the Department of Sociology, Yale University, New Haven, Conn (Dr. Myers); and the Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine (Dr. Astrachan).

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1974;31(3):329-334. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1974.01760150043006

Studying social distance reactions to mentally ill persons among relatives of former mental patients, we found that psychiatric treatment per se is less important in determining rejection of the mentally ill than is the ex-patient's level of impairment. Although 51% of family members expressed some negative attitudes toward the mentally ill, the policy of masking the psychiatric identity of treatment services is probably warranted only in exceptional circumstances. Masking is most appropriate when services are addressed to groups most vulnerable to the nefarious effects of psychiatric labeling, chiefly lower-class whites.

That social distance reactions among family members are strongest when the former patient is highly impaired suggests the need for reevaluation of short-term hospital treatment of the disturbed in which the family is relied on to support the patient in the community.