Challenging the public stigma of mental illness: a meta-analysis of outcome studies

Psychiatr Serv. 2012 Oct;63(10):963-73. doi: 10.1176/


Objective: Public stigma and discrimination have pernicious effects on the lives of people with serious mental illnesses. Given a plethora of research on changing the stigma of mental illness, this article reports on a meta-analysis that examined the effects of antistigma approaches that included protest or social activism, education of the public, and contact with persons with mental illness.

Methods: The investigators heeded published guidelines for systematic literature reviews in health care. This comprehensive and systematic review included articles in languages other than English, dissertations, and population studies. The search included all articles from the inception of the databases until October 2010. Search terms fell into three categories: stigma, mental illness (such as schizophrenia and depression), and change program (including contact and education). The search yielded 72 articles and reports meeting the inclusion criteria of relevance to changing public stigma and sufficient data and statistics to complete analyses. Studies represented 38,364 research participants from 14 countries. Effect sizes were computed for all studies and for each treatment condition within studies. Comparisons between effect sizes were conducted with a weighted one-way analysis of variance.

Results: Overall, both education and contact had positive effects on reducing stigma for adults and adolescents with a mental illness. However, contact was better than education at reducing stigma for adults. For adolescents, the opposite pattern was found: education was more effective. Overall, face-to-face contact was more effective than contact by video.

Conclusions: Future research is needed to identify moderators of the effects of both education and contact.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Female
  • Health Education / methods*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders*
  • Mentally Ill Persons / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Social Change
  • Social Discrimination / prevention & control*
  • Social Stigma*
  • Stereotyping*
  • Young Adult