Investigating public perceptions of mental illness in relation to offending behaviour
: including the development of the Public Attitudes Towards Offenders with Mental Illness scale (PATOMI)

  • Samantha Walkden

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


There is relatively limited research considering perceptions specifically towards individuals with mental illness who offend. Moreover, research is yet to establish a valid tool to measure these perceptions, or collectively considered attributes of the perceiver and the offender and how these factors may impact perceptions.
This thesis sought to explore public perceptions and attitudes towards individuals with mental illness who offend. Firstly, a Rapid Evidence Assessment was conducted to establish the extent and quality of the existing research. This served to provide a robust evidence base for the subsequent empirical studies included in the thesis.
The first study aimed to identify a valid scale for measuring public perceptions, specifically towards individuals with mental illness who offend. A large public sample completed a series of questionnaires, including the Police and Community Attitudes Towards Mentally Ill Offenders scale (PACAMI-O, Glendinning & O’Keeffe, 2015). The PACAMI-O was subjected to Exploratory Factor Analysis revealing a four-factor structure. The retained 28 item scale indicated high internal reliability. The new scale was called the Public Attitudes Towards Offenders with Mental Illness scale (PATOMI; Walkden et al., 2020). Employing a similar methodology, study two aimed to confirm the factor structure and validity of the PATOMI and to further investigate perceiver attributes and attitudes. The final study aimed to explore in depth, the factors that influence perceptions, including participants’ level of contact with mental illness, empathy, and right-wing views. Furthermore, whether offender attributes, including the type of mental illness and crime committed also impact perceptions. Conclusions from this study highlight that stigma towards this population is associated with several factors. Most notably, greater level of contact and increased empathy were found to be strong predictors of decreased stigma, whereas stronger right-wing attitudes and severity of mental illness correlated with increased stigmatising attitudes.
The implications of this thesis are both theoretical and practical, contributing to the limited literature on perceptions of individuals with mental illness who offend. Furthermore, this series of research has led to the development and validation of a scale to measure such perceptions. There are several outcomes of this research, which serve to benefit those individuals with mental illness who offend by informing and educating the public on perceptions of risk, thereby reducing stigma that this population face. The discussion highlights limitations of the thesis and suggests areas for future research.
Date of Award5 Jul 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorMichelle Rogerson (Main Supervisor) & Derrol Kola-Palmer (Co-Supervisor)

Cite this