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Stigma refers to an attribute or characteristic that is devalued by people in a particular culture at a particular point in time. Stigma associated with mental illness is among the most pervasive and damaging, with some suggesting the stigma is even more damaging than the condition itself.
Recognizing sitgma’s negative effects, Graham Thornicroft, of King’s College London, and his colleagues examined the effectiveness of interventions aimed at reducing mental health stigma and discrimination. To do so, they reviewed the existing research in the area and compiled the results.
The authors found that the stigma associated with mental illness had serious effects. There was a reliable association between experienced discrimination and suicidality among 38 percent of the sample. One in five people with a mental illness indicated discrimination was directly associated with their suicide attempt.
Thornicroft and colleagues further found that most interventions focused on educating the participants, while a number of others allowed people to have interactions with those who had a mental illness. The latter was most effective, suggesting that pleasant exchanges with people who have a mental illness can help to reduce their prejudice toward that group.
The authors also found that most interventions were effective at changing attitudes, but not necessarily the understanding of mental illness. Interventions can also be effective for people with a mental illness, as the self-stigma is reduced. Finally, the interventions allowed for short term gains, but the long term changes were not understood as well.
Collectively, the research shows that stigma and discrimination directed toward people with a mental illness can have damaging effects. But, interventions can help reduce the stigma, creating at least short term attitudinal changes.