Stigma and youth mental health: The importance of social context

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Title: Stigma and youth mental health: The importance of social context
Authors: Hennessy, Eilis
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Date: 30-Sep-2013
Abstract: The term stigma has been widely used in the social sciences since the 1960s, however until recently it has rarely been applied in the context of youth mental health. This paper, which addresses the stigma of youth mental health, has two main aims. The first is to explain what is meant by stigma and to give examples of stigma drawn from interviews with young people with mental health problems.  The second aim is to explore what is known about the development of stigma and to argue that researchers interested in the topic could learn much from theoretical approaches to the study of the development of intergroup relationships and prejudice.  What is stigma? The term is complex but is usually considered to encompass three different components: stereotypes (e.g. young people with mental health problems are disruptive), prejudices (e.g. I would not like to be friends with someone with depression) and discrimination (e.g. I would not invite someone with schizophrenia to a party). The paper will begin by presenting young people's personal experiences of these components of stigma and will argue that social exclusion is a serious problem, as young people need to be part a network of peers in order to develop social skills and confidence.  Research also suggests that young people who stigmatize may themselves suffer, as they may be less willing to seek help if they develop mental health problems. The paper will then consider research on the development of stigmatizing attitudes by drawing on the findings of a series of studies with young people (from middle childhood through adolescence) that have explored negative attitudes towards peers with mental health problems.  Evidence from these studies suggests how young people react depends on their age, their gender and on the type of mental health problem they encounter in their peers. For example, research suggests that older teenagers are more accepting of behaviour associated with ADHD, whereas they are less accepting of males with symptoms of depression.  The findings of studies like this will be used to argue that developmental inter-group theory, originally proposed to explain the development of prejudice in childhood, has potential as a framework for understanding how mental health stigma develops.  The theory proposes that stigma begins to develop early in life as people are identified as different, through their behaviour their looks or the way they are treated.  Once children learn to categorize their peers, they are then susceptible to messages that peers who are different (such as those with mental health problems) have negative characteristics e.g. they are untrustworthy. The value of a unifying theoretical approach is that it can highlight gaps in existing knowledge about the development of stigma, it can point to important topics for future research and it can provide a rationale for the design and implementation of anti-stigma programmes.  Such efforts to reduce stigma have the potential to accrue long-term benefits by improving the quality of life of all young people.
Type of material: Conference Publication
Keywords: Mental healthStigmaAdolescenceYoung people
Language: en
Status of Item: Peer reviewed
Conference Details: The 2nd International Association of Youth Mental Health Conference, Brighton, UK, 30th September - 2nd October, 2013
Appears in Collections:Psychology Research Collection

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