BACKGROUND The findings from a controlled study of the effect of a public education campaign on community attitudes to mentally ill people are presented.
METHOD A census of neighbours' attitudes toward mental illness was conducted in two areas before the opening of supported houses for the mentally ill. In one area an educational campaign was conducted. The attitude survey was then repeated in both areas and patients' social contact with neighbours was recorded.
RESULTS Respondents exposed to the didactic component of the campaign showed only a small increase in knowledge about mental illness but there was a lessening of fearful and rejecting attitudes in the experimental area and not in the control area. Neighbours in the experimental area were more likely to make social contact with both staff and patients. It was social contact which was directly associated with improved attitudes rather than education per se. Patients in the experimental area made contact and even friendships with neighbours whereas those in the control area did not.
CONCLUSIONS The public education campaign did not lead to significant change in neighbours' knowledge of mental illness. However, their attitudes improved and patients' social integration was enhanced.