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Compulsory admission can be experienced as devaluing and stigmatising by people with mental illness. Emotional reactions to involuntary hospitalisation and stigma-related stress may affect recovery, but longitudinal data are lacking. We, therefore, examined the impact of stigma-related emotional reactions and stigma stress on recovery over a 2-year period.
Shame and self-contempt as emotional reactions to involuntary hospitalisation, stigma stress, self-stigma and empowerment, as well as recovery were assessed among 186 individuals with serious mental illness and a history of recent involuntary hospitalisation.
More shame, self-contempt and stigma stress at baseline were correlated with increased self-stigma and reduced empowerment after 1 year. More stigma stress at baseline was associated with poor recovery after 2 years. In a longitudinal path analysis more stigma stress at baseline predicted poorer recovery after 2 years, mediated by decreased empowerment after 1 year, controlling for age, gender, symptoms and recovery at baseline.
Stigma stress may have a lasting detrimental effect on recovery among people with mental illness and a history of involuntary hospitalisation. Anti-stigma interventions that reduce stigma stress and programs that enhance empowerment could improve recovery. Future research should test the effect of such interventions on recovery.
Suicide rates are increased among unemployed individuals and mental illness stigma can contribute to both unemployment and suicidality. Persons with mental illness perceive negative attitudes among the general public and experience discrimination in their everyday life (=public stigma components) potentially leading to self-stigma and anticipated discrimination (=individual stigma components). Previous research found evidence for an association between aspects of mental illness stigma and suicidality, but has not yet clarified the underlying pathways explaining how different stigma components interact and contribute to suicidal ideation.
Public and individual stigma components and their association with suicidal ideation were examined among 227 unemployed persons with mental illness. A path model linking public stigma components (experienced discrimination, perceived stigma) with suicidal ideation, mediated by individual stigma components (anticipated discrimination, self-stigma), was examined using structural equation modelling within Mplus.
Our sample was equally split in terms of gender, on average 43 years old and about half reported no suicidal ideation during the past 30 days. In bivariate analyses all stigma components were significantly associated with suicidal ideation. In the path model and controlling for symptoms, the association between experienced discrimination and suicidal ideation was fully mediated by anticipated discrimination and self-stigma. Perceived stigma's contribution to suicidal ideation was fully mediated by anticipated discrimination, but not by self-stigma.
In general, programmes addressing multiple stigma components seem to be most effective in improving suicide prevention. Besides interventions targeting negative attitudes and discriminating behaviours of the general public, programmes to support persons with mental illness in coping with perceived and experienced stigma could improve suicide prevention. Future studies should test the short- and long-term effects of such interventions on suicidality and further investigate the role of stigma coping (e.g. secrecy) and emotional consequences (e.g. hopelessness and loneliness) for the association between stigma components and suicidality.
Whether the public stigma associated with mental illness negatively affects an individual, largely depends on whether the person has been labelled ‘mentally ill’. For labelled individuals concealing mental illness is a common strategy to cope with mental illness stigma, despite secrecy's potential negative consequences. In addition, initial evidence points to a link between stigma and suicidality, but quantitative data from community samples are lacking.
Based on previous literature about mental illness stigma and suicidality, as well as about the potential influence of labelling processes and secrecy, a theory-driven model linking perceived mental illness stigma and suicidal ideation by a mediation of secrecy and hopelessness was established. This model was tested separately among labelled and unlabelled persons using data derived from a Swiss cross-sectional population-based study. A large community sample of people with elevated psychiatric symptoms was examined by interviews and self-report, collecting information on perceived stigma, secrecy, hopelessness and suicidal ideation. Participants who had ever used mental health services were considered as labelled ‘mentally ill’. A descriptive analysis, stratified logistic regression models and a path analysis testing a three-path mediation effect were conducted.
While no significant differences between labelled and unlabelled participants were observed regarding perceived stigma and secrecy, labelled individuals reported significantly higher frequencies of suicidal ideation and feelings of hopelessness. More perceived stigma was associated with suicidal ideation among labelled, but not among unlabelled individuals. In the path analysis, this link was mediated by increased secrecy and hopelessness.
Results from this study indicate that among persons labelled ‘mentally ill’, mental illness stigma is a contributor to suicidal ideation. One explanation for this association is the relation perceived stigma has with secrecy, which introduces negative emotional consequences. If our findings are replicated, they would suggest that programmes empowering people in treatment for mental illness to cope with anticipated and experienced discrimination as well as interventions to reduce public stigma within society could improve suicide prevention.
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