The stigma associated with mental illnesses prevents treatment and impedes recovery. It is fundamental to discrimination in housing, employment, healthcare and insurance reimbursement. Stigma impacts productivity in the workforce and community health. Research on addressing discrimination and stigma has shown that individuals’ attitudes improve when they have direct contact with persons with mental illnesses, when they can get to know people beyond labels and myths (contact strategies). Research also demonstrates that some efforts to reduce stigma such as protesting and education about illnesses, while well intentioned, in some cases have actually increased the negative attitudes and behaviors of stigma. If one of the goals of a presentation is to reduce stigma, contact with a person living in recovery has been shown to be the most effective both immediately after the presentation and in follow-up evaluations.
For contact strategies to work, individuals need to be willing to self-disclose or identify that they have received mental health services. Self-disclosure has advantages and may also have risks. A person must make a number of considerations when deciding whether to disclose. Self-disclosing is a complex and personal issue that is best addressed only when the individual feels strong and ready to do so. Disclosure takes place in a narrow or broad context-as decided by the individual.
Overall, the literature indicates that strategically disclosing to others about one’s own mental illness has positive effects. Thus, it is of the utmost importance for individuals to learn not only how to cope with mental health issues, but how to disclose to others in a way that is liberating, helpful, and rewarding. The more contact and openness on the topic of mental health in our society, the more people who receive mental health services will be able to avoid the stigma and discrimination. And in turn, the more individuals will seek treatment and pursue recovery.
The following are research articles that provided the content for this summary:
- Corrigan PW, River LP, Lundin RK, et al: Three strategies for changing attributions about severe mental illness. Schizophrenia Bulletin 27:187–195, 2001
- Corrigan PW, Watson AC, Warpinski AC, et al: Implications of educating the public on mental illness, violence, and stigma. Psychiatric Services 55:577–580, 2004
- Corrigan P, Where is the Evidence Supporting Public Service Announcements to Eliminate Mental Illness Stigma? Psychiatric Services. Vol 63 #1. January 2012
- Sartorius N, Schulze H: Reducing the Stigma of Mental Illness: A Report From a Global Programme of the World Psychiatric Association. Cambridge, United Kingdom, Cambridge University Press, 2005
- Thornicroft G: Shunned: Discrimination Against People With Mental Illness. New York, Oxford University Press, 2006