How does familiarity impact the stigma of mental illness?

Clin Psychol Rev. 2019 Jun:70:40-50. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2019.02.001. Epub 2019 Feb 18.


This paper reviews studies on familiarity of mental illness to determine the relationships that familiarity has with public stigma. We propose a U-shaped relationship between familiarity and stigma that includes the expected inverse distribution (greater familiarity leads to less public stigma) and a provocative, positive relationship (familiarity in some groups leads to worse public stigma). Note that despite many studies in this arena, the U-shaped curve is not definitively supported by existing research. We believe its value, however, lies as a heuristic for hypotheses development to better understand the relationship between familiarity and public stigma. After reviewing research, we focus on two roles that comprise the surprising positive relationship: nuclear family members and mental health service providers like clinical psychologists. We then review research that suggests burden and associative stigma might account for the positive relationship between these groups and stigma. We end by using these findings to propose directions for future research, including on the development and evaluation of anti-stigma approaches.

Keywords: Behavioral health; Familiarity; Mental illness; Stigma.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Family*
  • Health Personnel*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders*
  • Recognition, Psychology*
  • Social Stigma*