Stigma as related to mental disorders

Annu Rev Clin Psychol. 2008;4:367-93. doi: 10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.4.022007.141245.


Individuals with mental illness receive harsh stigmatization, resulting in decreased life opportunities and a loss of independent functioning over and above the impairments related to mental disorders themselves. We begin our review with a multidisciplinary discussion of mechanisms underlying the strong propensity to devalue individuals displaying both deviant behavior and the label of mental illness. Featured is the high potential for internalization of negative perceptions on the part of those with mental disorders-i.e., self-stigmatization. We next focus on several issues of conceptual and practical relevance: (a) stigma against less severe forms of mental disorder; (b) the role of perceptions of dangerousness related to mental illness; (c) reconciliation of behavioral research with investigations of explicit and implicit attitudes; (d) evolutionary models and their testability; (e) attributional accounts of the causes of mental illness, especially to personal control versus biogenetic factors; and (f) developmental trends regarding stigma processes. We conclude with a brief review of multilevel efforts to overcome mental illness stigma, spanning policy and legislation, alterations in media depictions, changed attitudes and practices among mental health professionals, contact and empathy enhancement, and family and individual treatment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Culture
  • Empathy
  • Humans
  • Mass Media
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Prejudice
  • Psychological Theory
  • Self Concept
  • Stereotyping*