Advice from Social Referents and its Relationship to Internalized Stigma of Mental Illness: A Study from the Perspective of People with Mental Illnesses

Brittany Mann Lindon

Advisor: Linda Doss Chrosniak, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Jonathan Mohr, Anastasia Kitsantas

Research Hall, Room 92
September 09, 2011, 01:00 PM to 09:30 AM


Research has demonstrated that people with mental illnesses internalize negative public stereotypes about mental illness and anticipate stigma (e.g., Ritsher et al., 2003).  When individuals with a mental illness anticipate stigma, they may experience psychological effects (e.g., lower self-esteem, more negative affect, reduced feelings of authenticity, increased levels of intrusive thoughts) and behavioral effects (e.g., avoidance, more effortful social interactions) (e.g., Angermeyer et al., 2004; Link, 1987; Markowitz, 1998; Rosenfield, 1997).  This study aimed to investigate one component that may influence the development of anticipated stigma – advice from people close to the individual with a mental illness  (Herman, 1993; Wahl, 1999a).  In this study, I examined stigma from the perspective of individuals with a mental illness by investigating the advice that college student mental health consumers received from social referents such as professionals and family members. The advice assessed primarily focused on two areas, 1) Disclosure/Concealment and 2) Lowered Expectations.  This study found that the level of advice someone with a mental illness receives to conceal his or her mental illness and the advice he or she receives to lower expectations is positively correlated with the individual’s level of stigma (i.e., greater internalization of stigma and higher stigma consciousness) and concealment behavior, and negatively correlated with self-esteem.  Contrary to the hypotheses, neither type of advice was related to help-seeking behavior. This study provides additional information from the perspective of the mental health consumer about how stigma information/advice is cognitively stored and the relationship between this advice and adverse outcomes.