An expansive body of research has investigated the experiences and adverse consequences of internalized stigma for people with mental illness. This article provides a systematic review and meta-analysis of the extant research regarding the empirical relationship between internalized stigma and a range of sociodemographic, psychosocial, and psychiatric variables for people who live with mental illness. An exhaustive review of the research literature was performed on all articles published in English that assessed a statistical relationship between internalized stigma and at least one other variable for adults who live with mental illness. In total, 127 articles met the inclusion criteria for systematic review, of which, data from 45 articles were extracted for meta-analyses. None of the sociodemographic variables that were included in the study were consistently or strongly correlated with levels of internalized stigma. The review uncovered a striking and robust negative relationship between internalized stigma and a range of psychosocial variables (e.g., hope, self-esteem, and empowerment). Regarding psychiatric variables, internalized stigma was positively associated with psychiatric symptom severity and negatively associated with treatment adherence. The review draws attention to the lack of longitudinal research in this area of study which has inhibited the clinical relevance of findings related to internalized stigma. The study also highlights the need for greater attention on disentangling the true nature of the relationship between internalized stigma and other psychosocial variables.
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