Mental Health Consumer-Run Programs: Awareness and Attitudes of Social Work Educators
John Q. Hodges, PhD, University of Missouri-Columbia.
Mental health consumer-run programs (CRPs) are increasingly prevalent and evidence is accumulating that they provide effective services to those with severe mental illnesses. Despite this, low levels of awareness of CRPs and negative attitudes toward CRPs persist on the part of mental health professionals. Since mental health educators train these professionals, this study explores their attitudes and awareness, with the idea that educators may pass their potential biases on to their students. This study investigates attitudes and awareness of educators in social work, as social work is the single largest discipline in public mental heath practice. In addition to CRP awareness and attitudes, another goal of this study was to determine to what extent consumer content is being included in mental health curricula. A cross-sectional survey research design (N=122) was used to explore these questions among faculty members nationwide. Independent samples t-tests, ANOVA, and chi-square tests were used to analyze the data. A Bonferroni correction was applied to address the issue of multiple pairwise comparisons, thus making our p-level more conservative and reducing the risk of committing a Type I error.Findings show positive attitudes and high levels of awareness among faculty in social work, but low levels of inclusion of consumer content in mental health courses. Thus, the attitudes of social work faculty toward CRPs may be best characterized as cautiously optimistic. That is, awareness is high, attitudes are positive, but these programs are felt to be most useful when professionals have some level of involvement. Findings specific to classroom behavior show that faculty members feel that it is important to include consumer voice in the classroom setting. Classroom inclusion is often found in less integral course materials, such as “other” readings, guest speakers, and films, rather than in the core course material of textbooks and lectures. There were also some notable demographic findings in the sample. Women were found to be more aware of CRPs, more likely to include material authored by consumers in their courses, and more likely to indicate that CRPs need the involvement of professionals when compared to men. Finally, and perhaps most important of all the findings in this study, those who know someone personally who has suffered a severe mental illness are more aware of CRPs, and level of awareness itself is significantly associated with increased inclusion of consumer content in the classroom. This is the key finding of the study and points to a logical intervention: By increasing awareness of CRPs, we can increase inclusion of consumer content in social work education.Further research needs to be conducted with educators in other mental health disciplines such as psychiatry, psychology, mental health nursing, and the counseling fields. Implications for social work educators and practitioners in the area of mental health and mental illness are discussed.