The stigma of mental illness in the labor market

Soc Sci Res. 2016 Mar;56:16-25. doi: 10.1016/j.ssresearch.2015.12.001. Epub 2015 Dec 17.


Mental illness labels are accompanied by devaluation and discrimination. We extend research on reactions to mental illness by utilizing a field experiment (N = 635) to test effects of mental illness labels on labor market discrimination. This study involved sending fictitious applications to job listings, some applications indicating a history of mental illness and some indicating a history of physical injury. In line with research indicating that mental illness leads to stigma, we predicted fewer callbacks to candidates with mental illness. We also predicted relatively fewer callbacks for applicants with mental illness when the jobs involved a greater likelihood for interpersonal contact with the employer. Results showed significant discrimination against applicants with mental illness, but did not indicate an effect of potential proximity to the employer. This contributes a valuable finding in a natural setting to research on labor market discrimination towards people with mental illness.

Keywords: Discrimination; Mental health; Stigma.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Employment*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders*
  • Personnel Selection
  • Social Discrimination*
  • Social Stigma*
  • Stereotyping*