On the Self-Stigma of Mental Illness: Stages, Disclosure, and Strategies for Change

Article excerpt

People with mental illness have long experienced prejudice and discrimination. Researchers have been able to study this phenomenon as stigma and have begun to examine ways of reducing this stigma. Public stigma is the most prominent form observed and studied, as it represents the prejudice and discrimination directed at a group by the larger population. Self-stigma occurs when people internalize these public attitudes and suffer numerous negative consequences as a result. In our article, we more fully define the concept of self-stigma and describe the negative consequences of self-stigma for people with mental illness. We also examine the advantages and disadvantages of disclosure in reducing the impact of stigma. In addition, we argue that a key to challenging self-stigma is to promote personal empowerment. Lastly, we discuss individual- and societal-level methods for reducing self-stigma, programs led by peers as well as those led by social service providers.

Les personnes souffrant de maladie mentale font depuis longtemps l'objet de préjugés et de discrimination. Les chercheurs ont pu étudier ce phénomène comme étant celui des stigmates, et ont commencé à examiner des façons de réduire ces stigmates. Les stigmates du public sont la forme prédominante qui a été observée et étudiée, car elle représente les préjugés et la discrimination dirigés vers un groupe par l'ensemble de la population. L'auto-stigmatisation se produit lorsque les gens intemalisent ces attitudes du public et par la suite, souffrent de nombreuses conséquences négatives. Dans notre article, nous définissons plus complètement le concept de l'auto-stigmatisation et décrivons les conséquences négatives que l'auto-stigmatisation provoque chez les personnes souffrant de maladie mentale. Nous examinons aussi les avantages et désavantages de la divulgation pour réduire l'effet des stigmates. En outre, nous alléguons qu'un moyen de défier l'auto-stigmatisation consiste à promouvoir l'habilitation personnelle. Enfin, nous présentons des méthodes au niveau individuel et societal de réduire l'auto-stigmatisation, des programmes menés par les pairs ainsi que ceux menés par des prestataires de services sociaux.

Key Words: self-stigma, stigma reduction, mental illness, empowerment

In making sense of the prejudice and discrimination experienced by people with mental illnesses, researchers have come to distinguish public stigma from self-stigma.1 Public stigma is what commonly comes to mind when discussing the phenomenon, and represents the prejudice and discrimination directed at a group by the population. Public stigma refers to the negative attitudes held by members of the public about people with devalued characteristics. Self-stigma occurs when people internalize these public attitudes and suffer numerous negative consequences as a result.2 In our article, we seek to more fully define selfstigma, doing so in terms of a stage model. We will argue that a key to challenging self-stigma is to promote personal empowerment. One way to do this is through disclosure, the strategic decision to let others know about one's struggle toward recovery. Then, we will discuss individual and societal level methods for reducing self-stigma.

Defining Self-Stigma

While acknowledging the role of societal and interpersonal processes involved in stigma creation, social psychologists study stigma as it relates to internal and subsequent behavioural processes that can lead to social isolation and ostracism.3 Stereotypes are the way in which humans categorize information about groups of people. Negative stereotypes, such as notions of dangerousness or incompetence, often associated with mental illness, can be harmful to people living with mental illnesses. Most people people have knowledge of particular stereotypes because they develop from, and are defined by, societal characterizations of people with certain conditions. Although broader society has defined these stereotypes, people may not necessarily agree with them. …

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