Public Perceptions of Self-Harm—A Test of an Attribution Model of Public Discrimination

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Abstract

This cross-sectional, questionnaire-based study applied Corrigan, Markowitz, Watson, Rowan, and Kubiak’s (2003) attribution model of public discrimination toward individuals with mental ill-health to explore public perceptions of self-harm—an underresearched topic, given the size and scale of the problem of self-harm. Participants (community-based adult sample, N = 355, aged 18–67 years) were presented with 1 of 10, first-person, vignettes describing an episode of adolescent self-harm and completed self-report measures assessing dispositional empathy, familiarity with self-harm (professional; personal), perceived dangerousness, personal responsibility beliefs, emotional responses toward the person depicted in the vignette and helping/rejecting intentions. Vignettes were manipulated across conditions for the controllability of the stated cause (controllable; uncontrollable; unknown), stated motivation for self-harm (intrapersonal; interpersonal; unknown) and presentation format (video; text). Across the sample, attitudes were largely tolerant, with significantly higher levels of sympathetic than fearful or angry responding and significantly higher endorsement of helping responses than avoidance, segregative or coercive approaches. The manipulation of controllability of cause (controllable; uncontrollable), but not stated motivation (intrapersonal; interpersonal), was related to differences in cognitive, emotional or behavioral responding. Taken together, results were largely consistent with the attribution model, suggesting this may be a useful framework for understanding public perceptions of self-harm.

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