Stigma and discrimination in relation to mental illnesses have been described as having worse consequences than the conditions themselves. Most medical literature in this area of research has been descriptive and has focused on attitudes towards people with mental illness rather than on interventions to reduce stigma. In this narrative Review, we summarise what is known globally from published systematic reviews and primary data on effective interventions intended to reduce mental-illness-related stigma or discrimination. The main findings emerging from this narrative overview are that: (1) at the population level there is a fairly consistent pattern of short-term benefits for positive attitude change, and some lesser evidence for knowledge improvement; (2) for people with mental illness, some group-level anti-stigma inventions show promise and merit further assessment; (3) for specific target groups, such as students, social-contact-based interventions usually achieve short-term (but less clearly long-term) attitudinal improvements, and less often produce knowledge gains; (4) this is a heterogeneous field of study with few strong study designs with large sample sizes; (5) research from low-income and middle-income countries is conspicuous by its relative absence; (6) caution needs to be exercised in not overgeneralising lessons from one target group to another; (7) there is a clear need for studies with longer-term follow-up to assess whether initial gains are sustained or attenuated, and whether booster doses of the intervention are needed to maintain progress; (8) few studies in any part of the world have focused on either the service user's perspective of stigma and discrimination or on the behaviour domain of behavioural change, either by people with or without mental illness in the complex processes of stigmatisation. We found that social contact is the most effective type of intervention to improve stigma-related knowledge and attitudes in the short term. However, the evidence for longer-term benefit of such social contact to reduce stigma is weak. In view of the magnitude of challenges that result from mental health stigma and discrimination, a concerted effort is needed to fund methodologically strong research that will provide robust evidence to support decisions on investment in interventions to reduce stigma.
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