Undergraduate Honours Theses
Previous research has established that community interaction with the mentally ill, public education on the subject, and social integration all lead to a significantly more positive prognosis for sufferers of mental illness (Trute & Loewen, 1978), especially in ensuring less-frequent interaction with the legal system. Research has also shown however, that the misinformed and uneducated are more punitive and less empathetic (Shaw & Woodworth, 2013). The large representation of the mentally ill in the prison system necessitates revisions of policies regarding the handling of mental illness in social and community immersion, public education and legal contexts. The present study was designed to examine the relationships that exist between experience with mental illness, empathy, and views on punishment within the legal system. Undergraduate university students read an article about the attempted suicide of a similarly-aged student who was portrayed as mentally ill. It was hypothesized that a significant relationship between experiences with mental illness, both personal as well as centered around interaction, and levels of empathy would become apparent. Additionally, suggested punishment severity was hypothesized to have a strong correlational relationship with feelings of empathy. The results indicated a significant negative correlation between empathy levels and suggested punishment harshness, but indicated no significant correlational relationship between experience and interactions with mental illness and reported empathy levels.