An Examination of Community Attitudes towards Individuals with Mental Illness who have Criminally Offended compared to Individuals with Mental Illness and Individuals who have Criminally Offended
Negative community attitudes can have a significant impact upon recovery, reintegration, and desistance of individuals with mental illness and those who have criminally offended. Despite sharing characteristics with individuals with mental illness (IMI) and individuals who have criminally offended (ICO) that are independently stigmatising, no study has investigated whether individuals with mental illness who have criminally offended (IMICO) experience more, less, or similar levels of stigma as IMI and ICO. This research aimed to compare and examine community attitudes towards these three groups. An online experiment was conducted with an Aotearoa New Zealand adult community sample, with participants completing a survey and being randomly assigned to answer questions about their perceptions and affective, cognitive, and behavioural attitudes towards either IMI, ICO, or IMICO.
Familiarity with mental illness and criminal offending were included as independent variables, whilst media scepticism and empathy were also measured as key demographic influences. Results indicated that attitudes were significantly more positive towards IMI, with no significant difference between ICO and IMICO across attitudinal domains. The influence of familiarity was limited to behavioural attitudes only, with an interaction effect for mental illness and a main effect for criminal offending; media scepticism was partially correlated with attitudes towards IMI (perceptions/affective domains) and IMICO (cognitive domain); whilst empathy, with the exception of personal distress, was consistently related to more positive attitudes across groups. These findings extend previous research and theory regarding how IMI, ICO, and IMICO are viewed by the community, with implications and directions for future research discussed.