The public stigma of mental illness: what do we think; what do we know; what can we prove?

J Health Soc Behav. 2013 Mar;54(1):1-21. doi: 10.1177/0022146512471197. Epub 2013 Jan 16.


By the 1990s, sociology faced a frustrating paradox. Classic work on mental illness stigma and labeling theory reinforced that the "mark" of mental illness created prejudice and discrimination for individuals and family members. Yet that foundation, coupled with deinstitutionalization of mental health care, produced contradictory responses. Claims that stigma was dissipating were made, while others argued that intervention efforts were needed to reduce stigma. While signaling the critical role of theory-based research in establishing the pervasive effects of stigma, both claims directed resources away from social science research. Yet the contemporary scientific foundation underlying both claims was weak. A reply came in a resurgence of research directed toward mental illness stigma nationally and internationally, bringing together researchers from different disciplines for the first time. I report on the general population's attitudes, beliefs, and behavioral dispositions that targeted public stigma and implications for the next decade of research and intervention efforts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude*
  • Deinstitutionalization
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Prejudice*
  • Social Stigma*