In the ongoing national policy debate about how to best address serious mental illness (SMI), a major controversy among mental health advocates is whether drawing public attention to an apparent link between SMI and violence, shown to elevate stigma, is the optimal strategy for increasing public support for investing in mental health services or whether nonstigmatizing messages can be equally effective. We conducted a randomized experiment to examine this question. Participants in a nationally representative online panel (N = 1,326) were randomized to a control arm or to read one of three brief narratives about SMI emphasizing violence, systemic barriers to treatment, or successful treatment and recovery. Narratives, or stories about individuals, are a common communication strategy used by policy makers, advocates, and the news media. Study results showed that narratives emphasizing violence or barriers to treatment were equally effective in increasing the public's willingness to pay additional taxes to improve the mental health system (55 percent and 52 percent, vs. 42 percent in the control arm). Only the narrative emphasizing the link between SMI and violence increased stigma. For mental health advocates dedicated to improving the public mental health system, these findings offer an alternative to stigmatizing messages linking mental illness and violence.

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