My Colleague is a Mentally Ill Disabled Person. Can Contact at Work Change Attitudes Towards Mental Illness?

By Laura Negri and Giovanni Briante.

Published by The Diversity Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Diversity can be referred to almost any dimension that “may lead to the perception that another person is different from self” (van Knipennberg et al., 2004, p.1008). In companies, it is referred mainly to age, gender, race, tenure and functional background. Despite increasing interest in fair treatment of disabled individuals in the work environment, most research has been limited to assessing the attitude towards employing disabled people and biases in recruitment, instead of studying the processes behind each attitude.
People with mental illness often experience stigmatization: they are labelled, set apart, and discriminated in different fields (e.g. Penn & Corrigan, 2002; Couture e & Penn, 2003). Two main strategies have been used to reduce stigma towards the mentally ill: educational programs (Mayville & Penn, 1998) and contact (Allport, 1954). Both personal and professional contacts have been linked to reduced stigma (Alexander & Link, 2003). Although the optimal objective conditions for contact are well known, the subjective perception of contact (friendship) is rarely considered in empirical research (Van Dick et al., 2004).
The present research focuses on the role of a close relationship in changing negative attitudes towards mentally ill disabled people in work environments.
In Italy, law 68/1999 includes mental illness as a possible source of disability, allowing mentally ill people to work in companies.
The sample is composed of 78 Italian workers, which have a mentally ill disabled person as a colleague. The SEM (Amos 4.0) shows that the proximity and the frequency of contacts influence the perceived importance of the relationship (“friendship” to “to be part of the same organisation”). These variables determine an improvement in the opinions about mental illness, following the contact.

Keywords: Workplace Diversity, Mentally Ill Disabled People, Contact Hypothesis

International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp.267-276. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 625.829KB).

Laura Negri

Post-doctoral Student, Department of Psychology, University of Turin, Turin, Piedmont, Italy

Laura Negri Post-doctoral researcher. Is a Phd interested in the field of I/O and social psychology.

Prof. Giovanni Briante

Full Professor, Faculty of Psychology, University of Turin, Turin, Piedmont, Italy

Is a full professor in I/O and social psychology.


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