Mental Illness: Stigma by Association
People living with mental illness are often stigmatised but they are not the sole recipients of stigmatism, family members and other people close to those with mental illness are often also stigmatised by association.
Therefore the stigma suffered by association is an area that researchers are interested in.
Researchers from The Netherlands and the USA aimed to investigate stigmatism by association by interviewing immediate family members of people with mental illness:
Stigma may also ‘spill over’ from people with a stigmatised condition to people associated with them, for example, family and friends. This is known as courtesy stigma, family stigma, or stigma by association
The interviews revealed several things:
Participants reported a broad range of stigma by association experiences. The findings suggest that family members of people with mental illness experienced negative treatment and not being taken seriously, but, above all, they experienced and observed other immediate family members being blamed and being held responsible for their family members’ mental illnesses and behaviour.
Worryingly the study also revealed stigma when meeting with health professionals:
More than half of the participants in this study reported experiencing SBA in their contacts with mental health professionals and civil servants.
Participants also reported feeling little to no support in handling the burden of being related to a PWMI from mental health professionals or civil servants.
The study found that this stigmatism by associated impacted by the familial relationships and was confounded when the people lived with the people with mental illness.
The study advised several changed may be made in practice to reduce these effects:
there is a need for the provision of tailored support to family members of PWMI that takes familial relationship, co-residence, and gender into account.
It is also important that mental health professionals should be aware of the stigmatising effect and stress that can result from inadvertently excluding immediate family members from treatment processes and inadequate flows of information.
We therefore recommend that in-service training for mental health professionals and civil servants include the provision of information, create opportunities for discussion, and build skills as they pertain to how professionals can best support family members and acknowledge their responsibilities and concerns.