Background: Little is known about how the views of the public are related to self-stigma among people with mental health problems. Despite increasing activity aimed at reducing mental illness stigma, there is little evidence to guide and inform specific anti-stigma campaign development and messages to be used in mass campaigns. A better understanding of the association between public knowledge, attitudes and behaviours and the internalization of stigma among people with mental health problems is needed.
Method: This study links two large, international datasets to explore the association between public stigma in 14 European countries (Eurobarometer survey) and individual reports of self-stigma, perceived discrimination and empowerment among persons with mental illness (n=1835) residing in those countries [the Global Alliance of Mental Illness Advocacy Networks (GAMIAN) study].
Results: Individuals with mental illness living in countries with less stigmatizing attitudes, higher rates of help-seeking and treatment utilization and better perceived access to information had lower rates of self-stigma and perceived discrimination and those living in countries where the public felt more comfortable talking to people with mental illness had less self-stigma and felt more empowered.
Conclusions: Targeting the general public through mass anti-stigma interventions may lead to a virtuous cycle by disrupting the negative feedback engendered by public stigma, thereby reducing self-stigma among people with mental health problems. A combined approach involving knowledge, attitudes and behaviour is needed; mass interventions that facilitate disclosure and positive social contact may be the most effective. Improving availability of information about mental health issues and facilitating access to care and help-seeking also show promise with regard to stigma.