- PURPOSE: Medical students may be susceptible to emotional difficulties because of the high levels of both academic and interpersonal stress associated with their training. This study examined attitudes toward mental illness in medical students. It was expected that people who had experience of mental illness, either in their personal lives or through their professional experience, would have more positive attitudes toward students with mental health problems than would people who had not had such experience. METHOD: Faculty and staff employed by a large American university medical centre completed a questionnaire package including several measures designed to assess specific attitudes toward medical students with emotional problems. Data were also collected on the degree to which specific mental disorders were thought to interfere with the performance of medical students. RESULTS: In general, prior experience with mental illness, either through personal or professional activities, was associated with more positive attitudes about students with mental illness. However, the pattern of findings was complex. CONCLUSION: Future research should examine the extent to which specific mental illnesses actually affect the performance of medical students.