Mental Health Stigma as Social Attribution: Implications for Research Methods and Attitude Change

The course and outcomes of mental illness are hampered by stigma and discrimination. Research on controllability attributions has mapped the relationships between signaling events, mediating stigma, emotional reactions, and discriminating behavior. In this article, I describe how an attribution model advances research questions related to mental health stigma in three areas. (1) Stigma research needs to examine signaling events related to psychiatric stigma including the label of mental illness, behaviors associated with psychiatric symptoms, and physical appearance. (2) Research into mediating knowledge structures needs to bridge information about controllability attributions with public attitudes about dangerousness and self-care. (3) Ways in which these knowledge structures lead to emotional reactions (pity, anger, and fear) as well as behavioral responses (helping and punishing behaviors) need to be examined. The attribution model has significant implications for social change strategies that seek to decrease mental illness stigma and discrimination.

Key words: mental illness stigma, attributions, controllability, stability. [Clin Psychol Sci Prac 7:48–67, 2000]

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