Reducing Stigma toward Seeking Mental Health Treatment

Saporito, Jena Marie, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Teachman, Bethany, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

The current proposal examines the effectiveness of an educational intervention aimed at reducing negative attitudes toward mental illness and mental health treatmentseeking, and increasing indicators of willingness to seek treatment. Implicit and explicit indicators of stigma were evaluated across two groups of high school students (experimental group, n=80: education about mental illness and treatment, and contact with a mental health consumer; and control group, n=76: education about tobacco smoking and contact with an individual affected by cigarette smoking) to determine the effectiveness of the intervention in the reduction of stigma. Following the intervention, we assessed implicit attitudes (those residing outside of conscious control and/or awareness) and explicit attitudes (self-reported) toward mentally ill individuals and toward seeking mental health treatment. In addition to the attitude measures, we examined reports of personal willingness to seek treatment and behavioral indicators of openness to mental health treatment. We were also interested in demographic variables that might moderate the effectiveness of the intervention. Overall, results suggested the stigma intervention was effective at reducing explicit but not implicit measures of bias. Consistent with hypotheses, participants receiving the experimental (versus control) intervention reported less stigma toward mental health treatment and mentally ill people, though not more openness toward seeking mental health treatment on the behavioral indicators (personal willingness to seek treatment and interest in treatment information). In trying to understand for whom the intervention worked most effectively, exploratory analyses revealed an intervention group difference for Caucasian (though not non-Caucasian) participants on the behavioral Stigma and Mental Health Treatment III indicator outcomes, such that the Experimental group reported greater interest in treatment information. Further, participants receiving the control intervention displayed more openness to smoking cessation treatment. These findings provide support for the effectiveness of an educational intervention among adolescents in reducing negative attitudes toward mental illness and mental health treatment, but raise questions about how to effectively address implicit stigma as well as how to translate stigma reduction into changes in actual behavior.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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