Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Reducing the stigma of mental illness in undergraduate medical education: a randomized controlled trial

Andriyka Papish1*, Aliya Kassam2, Geeta Modgill3, Gina Vaz4, Lauren Zanussi4 and Scott Patten5

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine - Regina Campus, University of Saskatchewan, 2110 Hamilton St, Regina, SK S4P 2E3, Canada

2 Department of Community Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary, 3330 Hospital Drive NW, Calgary, AB T2N 4N1, Canada

3 Opening Minds Anti-Stigma Initiative, Mental Health Commission of Canada, 110 Quarry Park Blvd, Suite 320, Calgary, Alberta T2C 3G3, Canada

4 Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary, 1403 - 29 Street NW, Calgary, Alberta T2N 2T9, Canada

5 Department of Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary, 3rd Floor TRW, 3280 Hospital Drive NW, Calgary T2N 4Z6, Canada

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Medical Education 2013, 13:141  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-13-141

Published: 24 October 2013



The stigma of mental illness among medical students is a prevalent concern that has far reaching negative consequences. Attempts to combat this stigma through educational initiatives have had mixed results. This study examined the impact of a one-time contact-based educational intervention on the stigma of mental illness among medical students and compared this with a multimodal undergraduate psychiatry course at the University of Calgary, Canada that integrates contact-based educational strategies. Attitudes towards mental illness were compared with those towards type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM).


A cluster-randomized trial design was used to evaluate the impact of contact-based educational interventions delivered at two points in time. The impact was assessed by collecting data at 4 time points using the Opening Minds Scale for Health Care Providers (OMS-HC) to assess changes in stigma.


Baseline surveys were completed by 62% (n=111) of students before the start of the course and post-intervention ratings were available from 90 of these. Stigma scores for both groups were significantly reduced upon course completion (p < 0.0001), but were not significantly changed following the one-time contact based educational intervention in the primary analysis. Student confidence in working with people with a mental illness and interest in a psychiatric career was increased at the end of the course. Stigma towards mental illness remained greater than for T2DM at all time points.


Psychiatric education can decrease the stigma of mental illness and increase student confidence. However, one-time, contact-based educational interventions require further evaluation in this context. The key components are postulated to be contact, knowledge and attention to process, where attending to the student’s internal experience of working with people with mental illness is an integral factor in modulating perceptions of mental illness and a psychiatric career.

Stigma; Medical education; Mental illness; Psychiatry; Contact-based education; Knowledge; Process; Randomized controlled trial