Understanding and Reducing Implicit Mental Illness Stigma: A Contemporary Prejudice Perspective
Young, Rebecca Elyse
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The stigma of mental illness is a serious social issue that exists across nations and cultures. Over the years, numerous anti-stigma campaigns have been developed to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. However, stigmatizing attitudes still persist, which suggests that stigma not only exists in explicit and direct forms, but may also be expressed subtly and automatically causing it to remain unnoticed and thus unchanged. The purpose of this dissertation was to provide a deeper understanding of implicit stigma in order to determine an effective intervention to reduce it. Study 1 examined individuals implicit attitudes using the Go/No-Go Association Task (Nosek & Banaji, 2001) and found that university student participants had more negative implicit attitudes toward mental illness than positive and tended to automatically associate mental illness with dangerous and helpless attributes. Consistent with implicit racial prejudice research, Study 1 also identified a contemporary form of stigma described as aversive stigmatization, which refers to when individuals explicitly report non-stigmatizing attitudes, but harbour implicit negative attitudes toward mental illness. This has implications for discrimination as aversive stigmatizers were found to be less avoidant and more willing to help individuals with mental illness compared to high stigmatizers, but more avoidant and less helping compared to low stigmatizers, suggesting that aversive stigmatizers express stigma more subtly. Study 2 developed and tested an intervention to reduce implicit stigmatizing attitudes toward mental illness, which had not yet been examined. Results demonstrated that the intervention, which contained education, bias awareness, and contact components, was effective overall in reducing negative implicit attitudes toward mental illness. Furthermore, the intervention was most effective for aversive stigmatizers (compared to low, high, and intentional stigmatizers) in improving prosocial behaviour toward individuals with mental illness. These findings highlight the complex nature of stigma and illustrate the importance of continuing to examine implicit, contemporary forms of stigma that are subtle, yet harmful to individuals with mental illness. The findings are encouraging in that they demonstrate the possibility of reducing implicit stigmatizing attitudes and point to the continued need for specialized interventions that target all aspects of stigma in order to effectively reduce it.