Objective: This study examined predictors of stigma attitudes toward common youth emotional behavioral problems to test the hypothesis that interdependent cultural values would be associated with differential stigma towards externalizing versus internalizing disorders. Furthermore, we examined whether problem-specific stigma attitudes would predict adolescent's own self-reported manifestations of distress.
Method: 1224 Vietnamese American and European American adolescents completed measures of social distance stigma attitudes in response to vignettes depicting youth with internalizing (depression, social anxiety, somatization) and externalizing (alcohol use, aggressive behaviors, delinquency) disorders. A subset of 676 youth also provided self-reports on their own adjustment prospectively over six months.
Results: Measurement models revealed clear separation of negatively correlated factors assessing stigma toward externalizing versus internalizing problems. Values related to family interdependence were significantly associated with greater tolerance of internalizing disorders and lower tolerance of externalizing disorders. Stigma towards internalizing disorders was associated with lower concurrent self-reported internalizing symptoms, whereas stigma towards externalizing symptoms was associated with lower concurrent externalizing symptoms and greater decreases in externalizing symptoms over time.
Conclusions: The results of the study suggest that stigma attitudes are differentiated by problem type and may represent one cultural factor shaping distress manifestations.
Keywords: Stigma; cultural values; internalizing and externalizing disorders.