Medical students have been shown to have high levels of psychological distress, including self-stigmatization and unwillingness to seek care. The authors hypothesized that a student-led curriculum involving personal mental illness experience, given during the first-year neuroscience course, and titled “Mental Illness Among Us (MIAU),” would reduce stigma of mental illness.
In 2010 and 2011, students completed voluntary pre- and post-MIAU surveys measuring attitudes regarding mental illness in relation to MIAU. Also, in 2011, the authors categorized topics mentioned in student responses to an open-ended, free-response question on the course final examination.
Of 298 enrolled students, 250 submitted surveys that were matched pre- and post-intervention. Participants in the curriculum showed a significant difference in Social Distance, indicating an increased willingness to interact with individuals with mental illness, and a significant difference in the Mental Illness: Clinicians’ Attitudes (MICA) score representing a stronger agreement with positive statements regarding mental illness. The non-participants’ scores showed no changes in measures from pre- to post. Respondents most frequently reported that the neuroscience course prepared them to be a physician because it taught about compassion and the importance of treating the whole patient.
The results indicate that participation in MIAU leads to a decrease in stigmatization of mental illness and a greater sense of compassion among UCSF medical students. This finding is consistent with previous research suggesting social and cognitive congruence among peers and peer-teachers can result in meaningful learning experiences. MIAU may represent a sustainable model to supplement current systems to promote well-being of medical trainees.