Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Coverage of Psychological Disorder Stigma in Introductory Psychology

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Coverage of Psychological Disorder Stigma in Introductory Psychology

Article excerpt

The public's perception of mental illness is formed through various channels. Arguably, one of the most prevalent information sources shaping social perceptions is the media. Unfortunately, media frequently misinform and use psychiatric terms inaccurately and offensively (Wahl, 2003). In entertainment media, film and television productions often reduce individuals with psychological disorders to caricatures ranging from hopeless (e.g., Kiersten Dunst in Melancholia) to horrifying (e.g., Christian Bale in American Psycho). While these depictions predominantly portray fictionalized characters, the news media also tend to defame everyday people living with psychological disorders (Edney, 2004). McGinty, Kennedy-Hendricks, Choksy, and Barry (2016) found that over 50% of all news coverage of mental illness between 1995 and 2014 were embedded within reports associated with violence.

Whether originating from Hollywood or legitimate news agencies, erroneous and offensive depictions of mental illness often lead to stigmatizing attitudes (Arboleda-Florez & Stuart, 2012) that foster complex social, psychological, and economic consequences (Corrigan, 2004). Even the use of psychiatric labels can degrade individuals with psychological disorders and influence stigmatizing attitudes (Angermeyer & Matschinger, 2005). For example, stigma against people with psychological disorders can result in job discrimination (Stuart, 2006) despite the fact that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 established the unlawfulness of workplace discrimination against an individual with a psychological disorder.

Stigma is also consequential when it comes to treatment for psychological disorders. Higher self-stigma, an identification with the stigmatized group and an application of corresponding negative stereotypes and prejudices to the self, is associated with lower help seeking among both adults (Cooper, Corrigan, & Watson, 2003) and adolescents (Penn et al., 2005).Help-seeking behavior is further influenced by cultural variation in the experience of stigma. For example, members of many racial and ethnic minority groups are less likely to seek mental health services than Caucasians, perhaps because of the lingering stigma surrounding psychotherapy in these minority groups (Sue & Lam, 2002).

In a concerted effort to combat the stigma surrounding mental illness, the psychological community has recently launched a variety of international stigma-reduction campaigns. The American Psychological Association (APA), Mental Health America (MHA), and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) figure prominently in these awareness campaigns. Social media sites have also become involved through developing campaigns such as #HereForYou (www.Instagram.com), which encourages users to share personal challenges of living with mental illness.

An additional opportunity to raise stigma awareness among large audiences, and to engage the public in active conversation, presents itself in the college classroom. Introductory psychology is the second most popular college course (Landrum & Gurung, 2013), and, for most undergraduates, the only psychology course in which they will ever enroll. The majority of introductory courses already include a unit on psychological disorders (Griggs & Bates, 2014). However, in order to assess the contribution of the introductory psychology course in regards to combating stigma, it is important to identify the manner in which the information is being presented. Historically, in academic settings, courses addressing psychological disorders are typically dominated by lectures on symptoms and diagnoses (Halonen, 2005). While this approach can be effective in communicating diagnostic categories, a lack of addressing the accompanying stigma could in effect perpetuate stigmatizing attitudes towards those living with psychological disorders. Accordingly, Wahl, Jones, and Reiss (2014) urged that lessons on psychological disorders would benefit from explicitly acknowledging the accompanying role of stigma. …

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