Example Of Research Paper On Public Stigma Of The Mentally Ill

Type of paper: Research Paper

Topic: Health, Psychology, Medicine, Disease, Public, Illness, Mental Illness, People

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2021/02/27


Public stigma against people suffering from mental illness is based largely on the perception that all mentally ill people are dangerous and substandard individuals. The literature review conducted for this paper referred to negative reactions to those individuals suffering from any type of mental illness, which impacts their ability to successfully control their disease. This paper draws connections between public stigma, behavior of the mentally ill person, treatment, and ways to alter stigma against these patients through education and exposure. An interview with Dr. Rebecca Rahschulte supports the information presented in the articles and goes on to state that the stigma attached to their disease prevents many patients from seeking the help they need. The conclusion reached is that through public education and personal exposure to the mentally ill population, it is possible to decrease the stigma attached to their disease.

Introduction: Public Stigma of the Mentally Ill

The thesis of the paper is a discussion of the negative public perception about mental illness. Mental illness is a common aspect of life in today’s stressful world. The Center for Disease Control goes as far as to say that only about 17 percent of American adults can be considered mentally healthy (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999). There are many different kinds of mental illness, and some estimates claim that as much as 26% of the adult American population suffers from some kind of disorder. However, it is the category of psychosis that creates the largest stigma in the public against mental illness. Through literature review, research, and an interview with a doctor of psychiatry, the public stigma against mental illness is clearly revealed. A presentation of possible solutions is given with suggestions for future research into the topic.

Literature Review

Defining Public Stigma Concerning Mentally Ill People. Corrigan et al. (2003) tested in their study the effects of different kinds of public stigma on mentally ill people. Public stigma, according to Corrigan et al. (2003), comes in the form of the controllability, attributing responsibility, reacting emotionally and responding discriminately. Through an assessment of two ideas, the attribution hypothesis and the danger appraisal hypothesis, Corrigan et al. (2003) produced notable findings. Firstly, those who believe that mental illness is under the responsible control of the patient have greater likelihood of avoiding or denying help and promote coercive treatment to those who are mentally ill. The same holds for those who think that mentally ill persons are dangerous (Corrigan et al., 2003). Secondly, the longer it is suggested that mentally ill people have control over their condition, the greater the tendency for people to feel anger and fear towards them, as affirmed by the attribution hypothesis (Corrigan et al., 2003). Thirdly, the greater the fear felt by people towards mentally ill people, the greater their tendency is for avoiding and treating them coercively, consistent with the danger appraisal hypothesis. Interestingly, the more familiar people are with mental illness, the greater their tendency to pity and extend help to the mentally ill (Corrigan et al., 2003). All in all, the findings established by Corrigan et al. (2003) emphasize that public discrimination affects those with mental illness through emotional, helping and rejecting responses. The fact that the study was limited to a sample of schizophrenia sufferers, a diagnosis notorious for danger, means that it may not generate the same results for other mental illnesses; future studies may address other forms of mental illness. Furthermore, emergence of new data regarding the biological causes of mental illnesses may inspire the emergence of future studies (Corrigan et al., 2003).
Link et al. (1999) also undertake a study analyzing public conceptions of mental illnesses in terms of causal attributions, dangerousness and establishing social distance. Using data taken from the 1996 General Social Survey, the researchers gathered findings that varied based on different kinds of mental illnesses. Schizophrenia and depression, known to arise from biological and genetic anomalies, are mental illnesses that are perceived with less dangerous and therefore decrease the necessity of social distance. Given the findings, it is important to note that although casual attributions to mental illnesses have increased among the public, the fact that the possibility of danger and social distance are correlated.The Effects of Public Stigma on Mentally ill People. The findings of Crocker and Major (1989) on the self-esteem of stigmatized groups provide important insights on the discriminatory treatment of mental illness sufferers. Whereas it is widely hypothesized that stigmatized groups have low self-esteem, Crocker and Major (1989) presented contrary findings. Members take stigma against groups as prejudice and they take into account the outcomes of stigma internally, not externally, by considering advantaged groups. In addition, members focus on the positive dimensions of their group, not on the negative ones (Crocker & Major, 1989). The people who suffer from mental illness are a group whose main weakness is the state of their mental health – one which, in turn, is largely affected by stigma imposed on them by others (Crocker & Major, 1989).
In a later study, Link et al. (2001) incorporate the concept employed by the earlier study by Crocker and Major (1989) regarding the effect of stigma on the self-esteem of mental illness sufferers. Recognizing the premise that mental illness disables people from withstanding the negative effects of stigma, Link et al. (2001) assessed the stigma associated with mental illness. Two types of stigma were considered – devaluation-discrimination perceptions and rejection leading to social withdrawal. The researchers demonstrate that people with mental illness at the 90th percentile have seven to nine times lower self-esteem compared to those at the 10th percentile (Link et al., 2001). Stull et al. (2013) state that implicit bias leads to the greater usage of controlling clinical interventions in contrast to explicit bias (Stull et al., 2013).
Influence of the External Information on Mentally Ill People. Sher and Vilens (2009) emphasized the significance of the internet to people who have suicidal tendencies. As a massive portal of information, the internet is known for its wide-ranging influence on various issues. Topics on mental illness in particular may aid patients and other concerned individuals in obtaining specific information. Yet, there is also an understanding that the internet also contains content that enhance the suicidal tendencies of people (Sher & Vilens, 2009). People with suicidal tendencies may find balance from the content or it may aggravate their condition (Sher & Vilens, 2009). This belief is consistent with the premises of Crocker and Major (1989) and Link et al. (2001) on the injurious effects of stigma on mental illness sufferers. Low self-esteem promoted from suicidal encouragement online may aggravate their well-being, resulting in actual suicide (Sher & Vilens, 2009).


An interview with Dr. Rebecca Rahschulte was conducted on the topic of the public stigma against mentally ill people. She was asked many questions about the subject and gave answers that were significantly helpful toward research. Dr. Rahschulte is familiar with the topic of public stigma and knowledgeable in the field of psychology; these qualifications combined to make her a credible source. She states that most of her public stigma encounters were during her previous career as a school psychologist when she worked with children having educational disabilities. Dr. Rahschulte is currently the Associate Professor of Psychology and Program Chair for the Social-Behavioral Science, Humanities, and Human Services at Ivy Tech Southeast Region. She is a highly qualified professional in the field of psychology.
At the opening of the interview, Dr. Rahschulte defined public stigma as the negative attention shown to a person or group of people based on personal characteristic; the characteristic in this case is mental illness. Television, movies, and print media frequently show the mentally ill person as frighteningly dangerous and incapable of change and therefore deserving of shunning by society. Dr. Rahschulte stated that in the public school system, teachers often lower the educational expectations of children with learning disabilities based on their assumptions of their capabilities. Decreased expectations restricted the child’s academic growth and, if a label of mental illness was also attached, the opinion became solidified. There are even some individuals in present-day society that believe mental illness is a form of demonic possession or a punishment for sins.
According to Dr. Rahschulte, if a person admits to a form of mental illness, he often fears repercussions such as losing his job, his friends, and his identity as being mentally stable. She stated that she felt public stigma also negatively impacts the effectiveness of treatment for those with mental illness. Finding a community sympathetic to the type of patient a mental health facility treats can be difficult, as many families don’t want a potentially violent patient in their neighborhood and businesses fear patrons will avoid their storefronts.
There are a number of ways to help with alleviating public stigma, but Dr. Rahschulte thinks there may be one thing in particular that could help. “Education, education, education.it’s the key to reducing negative public stigma.” Dr. Rahschulte also believes a program of public involvement with the mentally ill similar to that with physically handicapped individuals would foster tolerance, respect, and acceptance. Unfortunately, it may be optimistic to think that education can right all the misunderstandings involved with public stigma. Dr. Rahschulte realizes this and acknowledges that members of society are only human, stating that the stigma can be improved, but may not ever disappear entirely. Discussion
The uninformed public without any personal experience of mentally ill people in control of their disease frequently have a perception that all individuals with mental illness are dangerous. They may believe the patient can control his behavior and chooses to act inappropriately (Corrigan et al., 2003). Avoidance and critical behavior-- perhaps even derision-- results as a manifestation of the fear of the uninformed public. Public stigma may be a reaction to the personal habits of a mentally ill person. He may use drugs or alcohol and his association with this type of behavior contributes to public disapproval. The combination of his illness and inappropriate drug use not only results in socially unacceptable actions, but his appearance would probably be unhygienic. The patient may not be employed and wander in public without a sense of purpose. These associations would all contribute to a perception of an inferior and possibly dangerous individual.
Corrigan et al. (2003) propose that when people understand the struggle of the mentally ill person to overcome his behavior, people are more likely to both offer assistance and understanding to the individual. In order for a mentally ill person to assist in overcoming public stigma, it is important to impress on him how his appearance and behavior affects others. Some patients will not have a desire to change in order to become more acceptable to other people, but some will make the effort. This effort will bolster their self-esteem when success in relationships is achieved. In addition, the people with whom the patient establishes an understanding relationship may act as advocates against public stigma.
Other ways to promote appropriate behavior and a change in public perception is to limit the negative information available to the mentally ill individual. Even healthy people will react negatively when enough detrimental ideas are available to them and a mentally ill person may be more likely to identify with information that contributes to a poor self-image. Positive reinforcement and allowing the mentally ill person to be involved in activities that will promote healthy self-esteem may produce favorable results more quickly. By trying to help the mentally ill patient understand why others act toward him as they do, he may not be as affected by the stigma attached to his disease.


The issue of public stigma against the mentally ill is a cycle of cause and effect. The public perception of mental illness is that a person with mental disease is dangerous. Whether this idea is a result of personal experience, media coverage of isolated incidents, or representation in movies or on television, it still persists. This perception of possibly violent behavior is a major cause of the stigma against a person suffering from any type of mental illness. The stigma attached to being mentally ill frequently prevents an individual from seeking help, which can result in the violent behavior the public attaches to the diagnosis; when schizophrenia and other types of potentially violent types of psychosis are treated, the incidences of violence decrease. By treating the more violent types of mental illness, violent incidences are reduced and stigma decreases.
The problem with this line of deduction is that the stigma will persist even if violent episodes decrease due to the lingering perception that mentally ill people are dangerous. The proposed solution is public education and as much personal exposure to mentally ill people who are in control of their disease as possible. By placing individuals coping successfully with mental illness in public activities where their efforts are recognized, the public can see first-hand that they are simply people struggling with an illness. Until such a time, individuals diagnosed with any type of mental illness must find ways to cope with the stigma of their disease.


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