the impact of stigma on mental illness a historical thesis

By: Edith Gonzalez
California State University, Long Beach
May 2012
 People who have mental illness encounter various challenges that complicate their lives
caused from stigma on mental illness, such as lack of social support, housing,
employment, and affecting their mental health treatment (Borinstein, 1992; Overton &
Medina, 2008).
 Stigmatization of people with mental illness has continued throughout history in the
United States (Araujo & Borrell, 2012).
 Individuals who have mental illness are perceived to be violent, dangerous, and
exhibited unpredictable behavior (Araujo & Borrell, 2012; Bathje & Pryor, 2011).
 People with mental illness are distrusted, stereotyped, feared, and avoided by others
(Borinstein, 1992; Bathje & Pryor, 2011).
 The stigma of mental illness deprives individuals of their dignity and interferes with full
participation in society, and discriminated due to their illness (Anglin, Link, & Phelan,
2006; Corrigan, Byrne, Davis, & Watson, 2005).
The purpose of this study was to explore the public perception on mental illness and
examines historical influences from the 19th century to the 21st century to the stigma of
mental illness.
• Social work is a profession committed to the pursuit social welfare, social
change, and social justice, as well as to meet the psychosocial needs of
individuals in order to improve their quality of life (National Association of
Social Workers [NASW], 2011).
• The stigma of mental is vital for social workers since they provide care for
a large number of mental health patients The stigmatized views on mental
illness hinders social workers to provide and ensure clients have proper
services for their psychological needs; it may prevent funding based on the
lack of importance of maintaining good mental health and avoidance to
treatment (Corrigan, Markowitz, & Watson, 2004).
• Effective social work practice advocates for the wellbeing of the individual
to be treated with social justice, and dignity.
• The stigma of mental illness effect all ethnic groups and cultures. It is
necessary to understand that culture has a direct impact in the stigma
attached to mental illness. In fact certain cultures such as minority groups
are less likely to seek mental health treatment based on negative beliefs
on mental illness, such as Latinos, Asians, and African-Americans
(Anglin, Link, & Phelan, 2006).
• Mental illness is like any other illness that does not discriminate based on
race or ethnicity, and misunderstandings about mental illness can stop
individuals from seeking treatment, which can lead to other chronic
illnesses (Anglin, Link, & Phelan, 2006).
Historical Analysis
Research regarding the contributing elements to the stigma on mental illness in
America as well as the consequences of negative perceptions toward
individuals with mental illness, was conducted using content analysis. This
thesis used content analysis to examine both primary and secondary sources
such as qualitative, quantitative, and literature review methods (Rubin &
Babbie, 2007).
Selection of Time Frame
The period time selected for analysis, 1990 through 2010, based on the
existence of research primarily on the stigma of mental illness. During this
time period, the researcher identified the primary focus of research was on the
consequences of stigma, detailing the discrimination and prejudice individuals
with mental illness have encountered from having a psychiatric illness
(Corrigan, Byrne, Davis, Watson, 2005).
Selection of Sources
• The primary sources selected included scholarly journals, magazine articles, research
journals, and books on the stigma of mental illness. Sources were selected based on the
topic of the study focusing primarily on the stigma of mental illness and how the
consequences of stigma affect the individual quality of life, such as self-esteem, access
to services, and community integration.
Mad in America, Bad Science, and the Enduring
Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill Whitaker (2002)
Mental health consumers’ experiences of stigma.
Wahl (1999)
Voice from the inside: Readings on the experience
of mental illness, Karp (2010)
Negative Portrayal
Undermine competence
Structural Stigma
Devalued sense of worth
Sufferer’s own fault
Social rejection
Mental Health Practitioners
Effects of Stigma and Experiences
Experiences of Stigma
Individuals with mental illness report the occurrence of stigma as one of the most
devastating experience of having a mental illness (Borinstein, 1992; Corrigan,
Markowitz, & Watson, 2004). People report being felt useless from being discriminated
and rejected against, mainly from negative stereotypes of mental illness. The most
commonly incidents involved witnessing stigmatizing comments or negative
illustrations of someone with mental illness (Borinstein, 1992; Link, Struening, NeeseTodd, Asmussen, & Phelan, 2001).
Consequences of Stigma
People with mental illness reported the stigma of mental illness has affected their life
from being socially rejected, isolated and discriminated against (Link et al., 2001). An
overwhelming persistent theme from the results of the research done in the timeframe
of 20 years demonstrates that individuals consistently report acts of discrimination and
prejudice from having a mental illness (Borinstein, 1992). Secondly, studies illustrated
many of the participants also reported being rejected by family members due to their
mental illness (Link, Struening, Neese-Todd, Asmussen, & Phelan, 2001).
• The individual’s self-esteem is impacted by the constant avoidance and
discrimination from others and seemed less of a human for having mental illness
(Corrigan, Markowitz, & Watson, 2004).
• Research indicated a generalization from the public that people with mental illness
are incompetent and do not have hopes and dreams for their future, such as holding
a job or maintaining employment (Corrigan et al., 2004).
• Another common theme revealed in the analysis is the public’s understandings of
mental illness; based on what they have learned through the years from watching
television shows and other media information (Wahl, 1999; Wahl, 2003). For
instance, Wahl et al. (1999) study reported 89% of its respondents watched
television shows and reported being concerned that the people with mental illness
were portrayed as violent, dangerous, different, and laughable.
• Research revealed stigma interferes with the potential of the individual to be part of
a supportive social interaction and openly identify with others about their mental
illness. The stigma of mental illness overshadows the individual’s ability to be
members of society, participate in the workforce and to be treated as human beings,
instead of being labeled by the symptoms of mental illness (Karp, 2010).
The results of the data analysis suggest public’s attitudes toward individuals with
mental illness have not been favorable throughout history. This is evidenced by acts of
discrimination, rejection, and avoidance the public have manifested against those
suffering from the illness (Corrigan, Markowitz, & Watson, 2004)
Research indicated stigma as one of the primary barriers for the treatment of mental
illness, since it impedes the individual from seeking services and/or participate in
treatment (Link, Struening, Neese-Todd, Asmussen & Phelan, 2001).
Stigma of mental illness overshadows the individual’s ability to be members of
society and participate in the workforce due to undermine competence and prejudice
(Borinstein, 1992; Link, Struening, Neese-Todd, Asmussen & Phelan, 2001).
Implications for Social Work
Stigma impacts every aspect of an individual’s life, from their self-esteem to their
personal relationships to their social lives. It is imperative that social workers advocate
at every level to obliterate the stigma attached to mental illness by recognizing
strengths and potential of individuals who have psychological illness. Social workers
can advocate for government policy targeting the media to properly display positive
characteristics of people with mental illness and that recovery is possible with support
and treatment.
Anglin, D., Link, B., & Phelan, J. (2006). Racial differences in stigmatizing attitudes toward people with mental illness.
Psychiatric Services. 57(6).
Araujo, B., & Borrell, L. (2012). Understanding the link between discrimination, mental health outcomes, and life chances
among Latinos. Hispanic Journal of Behavior Sciences. 28(2), 245-266.
Bathje, G., & Pryor, J. (2011). The relationship of public and self-stigma to seeking mental health services. Journal of Mental
Health Counseling. 33(2), 161-176.
Borinstein, A. (1992). Public attitudes toward persons with mental illness. Health Affairs, 11(3), 186-196.
Corrigan, P., Markowitz, F., & Watson, A. (2004). Structural levels of mental illness stigma and discrimination. Schizophrenia
Bulletin, 30(3), 481-49.
Corrigan, P., Watson, A., Byrne, P., & Davis, K. (2005). Mental illness stigma: Problem of public health or social justice?
National Association of Social Workers. 363-368.
Karp, R. & Sisson, G. (2010). Voice from the inside: Readings on the experience of mental illness. Oxford University Press.
New York: NY
Link, B., Struening, E., Neese-Todd, S., Asmussen, S., & Phelan, J., (2001). The consequences of stigma for the self-esteem of
people with mental illnesses. Psychiatric Services. 52(12), 1621-1626.
National Association of Social Workers. (2011). Code of Ethics. National Association of Social Workers, Washington, D.C.
Overton, S. & Medina, S. (2008). The stigma of mental illness. Journal of Counseling & Development. 86, 143-151.
Rubin, A., & Babbie, E. (2007). Essential research methods for social work. Thomson Brooks; Cole.
Wahl, O. (1999). Mental health consumers’ experience of stigma. Department of
Psychology, George Mason University. Fairfax, VA.
Wahl, O. (2003) Media Madness: Public Images of Mental Illness. Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

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