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Stigma among Singaporean youth: a cross-sectional study on adolescent attitudes towards serious mental illness and social tolerance in a multiethnic population
  1. Shirlene Pang,
  2. Jianlin Liu,
  3. Mithila Mahesh,
  4. Boon Yiang Chua,
  5. Shazana Shahwan,
  6. Siau Pheng Lee,
  7. Janhavi Ajit Vaingankar,
  8. Edimansyah Abdin,
  9. Daniel Shuen Sheng Fung,
  10. Siow Ann Chong,
  11. Mythily Subramaniam
  1. Research Division, Institute of Mental Health, Singapore, Singapore, Singapore
  1. Correspondence to Dr Mythily Subramaniam; Mythily{at}


Objectives Stigma against mental illnesses is one of the significant obstacles faced by mental health service users and providers. It can develop at a young age and is also influenced by culture. Youths in Southeast Asian countries are under-represented in mental health research, thus this study aims to explore the dimensions of stigma and social tolerance and examine its correlates in the younger, multiethnic population of Singapore.

Design An online survey collected data with sociodemographic questions, the Attitudes Towards Serious Mental Illness (Adolescent version) Scale, Social Tolerance Scale and an open-text question on words or phrases participants associated with the term ‘mental illness’. Principal component analysis and multiple regression models were conducted to investigate the factor structure of the attitudes and social tolerance scales and their sociodemographic correlates.

Participants Participants included 940 youths aged 14–18 years old who were residing in Singapore at the time of the survey and were recruited through local schools.

Results About a quarter of the students (22.6%) reported participating in mental health awareness campaigns while nearly half (44.5%) associated pejorative words and phrases with the term mental illness. The Attitudes Towards Serious Mental Illness (Adolescent version) Scale yielded five factors while the Social Tolerance Scale yielded two. Ethnicity, gender and nationality were significantly correlated with factors of both scales. Chinese youths showed higher sense of ’physical threat' and lower ’social tolerance' than those of other ethnicities. Females showed more ’wishful thinking', ’social concern' and ’social responsibility' towards the mentally ill than males.

Conclusions The dimensions of stigma and social tolerance are different in Asian cultures compared with Western cultures. Sociodemographic differences in attitudes towards the mentally ill were found among youths living in Singapore. Misconceptions and negative attitudes towards mental illness are common, demonstrating a clear need for effective stigma reduction campaigns.

  • Singapore
  • stigma
  • mental illness
  • social tolerance
  • adolescents

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  • Contributors SP and JL are joint first authors. SP, JL, MM and BYC conducted the fieldwork. Analysis was done by JL. SP led the project. SP, MM, BYC, SS, SPL, JAV, EA, DSSF, SAC and MS helped to design and deliver the project. All authors revised and approved the final version of the manuscript.

  • Funding This work was supported by the Singapore Ministry of Health’s National Medical Research Council under the Centre Grant Programme, grant number NMRC/ CG/004/2013.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval Singapore National Healthcare Group Domain Specific Review Board.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Additional data are available on request.