Stigmatisation of those with mental health conditions in the acute general hospital setting. A qualitative framework synthesis

Soc Sci Med. 2020 Jun;255:112974. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2020.112974. Epub 2020 Apr 28.


Rationale: Patients with long-term mental health conditions often have complex physical, mental, and social needs. They are frequent users of the acute general healthcare system, but can experience stigmatising attitudes and behaviours, and structural discrimination. We wished to improve understanding of stigmatisation in the acute healthcare setting, to target areas for future intervention.

Objective: A synthesis of qualitative literature was undertaken in order to understand how patients with long-term mental health conditions are stigmatised, or otherwise treated, within the acute healthcare system.

Method: A theory-driven framework approach was implemented. Existing stigma theory was used to outline a framework for categorizing stigmatising and non-stigmatising phenomena within the acute healthcare system.

Results: A systematic literature search of qualitative studies identified a sample of 51 studies that would inform the framework. Using data in these studies, a final theoretical 'best fit' framework was developed. In this framework there is an overarching pattern of labelling and stereotyping, plus five ways in which patients with mental health conditions are stigmatised in the acute healthcare system: devaluation, social control, avoidance, rejection, and failure to act. In addition, the framework outlines positive attitudes and behaviours - valuing, adjustment, responding, legitimising, and positive action - which contrast with the stigmatisation patterns.

Conclusions: The study offers a framework for identifying stigmatisation and positive treatment of those with mental health conditions in an acute health setting. This framework is of potential value in targeting areas for improved quality of care and may have utility beyond this setting and stigmatised group.

Keywords: Acute healthcare; Critical realist; Discrimination; Emergency care; Mental health; Qualitative synthesis; Stigmatisation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Hospitals, General
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders*
  • Mental Health
  • Qualitative Research
  • Social Stigma
  • Stereotyping*