The effect of first year mental health fieldwork on attitudes of occupational therapy students towards people with mental illness

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Abstract

Background and Aims

Despite recent initiatives to reduce stigma towards people with mental illness, negative attitudes persist both in the community and among health professionals. Fieldwork experience has been identified as the most powerful way of modifying the attitudes of health professional students. Research to date suggests that later placements tend to have a more positive effect on attitudes than do earlier placements. However, inconsistencies within the literature suggest that it is the nature of the fieldwork experience that is the critical factor. We set out to investigate whether a program of fieldwork that included a tutorial component would bring about positive attitudinal change in first year occupational therapy students.

Methods

We conducted secondary analysis of data collected from first year students before and after first year fieldwork experience in mental health settings. Student statements were rated to identify positive versus negative attitudes, and attitudinal themes were analysed.

Results

Quantitative analysis revealed that students made significantly more statements reflecting positive attitudes following fieldwork than they did before. From pre- to post-fieldwork, attitudinal themes changed from: people with mental illness as different, fear of people with mental illness, and a deficit focus of mental illness, to: the ‘ordinariness’ of people with mental illness, students' understanding of people with mental illness, and an enabling approach to people with mental illness.

Conclusions

A program of fieldwork that includes a structured tutorial component can bring about positive changes in the attitudes of first year students towards people with mental illness.

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