Treatments have been developed and tested to successfully reduce the symptoms and disabilities of many mental illnesses. Unfortunately, people distressed by these illnesses often do not seek out services or choose to fully engage in them. One factor that impedes care seeking and undermines the service system is mental illness stigma. In this article, we review the complex elements of stigma in order to understand its impact on participating in care. We then summarize public policy considerations in seeking to tackle stigma in order to improve treatment engagement. Stigma is a complex construct that includes public, self, and structural components. It directly affects people with mental illness, as well as their support system, provider network, and community resources. The effects of stigma are moderated by knowledge of mental illness and cultural relevance. Understanding stigma is central to reducing its negative impact on care seeking and treatment engagement. Separate strategies have evolved for counteracting the effects of public, self, and structural stigma. Programs for mental health providers may be especially fruitful for promoting care engagement. Mental health literacy, cultural competence, and family engagement campaigns also mitigate stigma's adverse impact on care seeking. Policy change is essential to overcome the structural stigma that undermines government agendas meant to promote mental health care. Implications for expanding the research program on the connection between stigma and care seeking are discussed.
Keywords: care seeking; serious mental illness; stigma.
© The Author(s) 2014.