Assistant Professor Amy C. Watson on Self Stigma and Mentalympians

Following is a clear and concise explanation of self stigma and its process by Assistant Professor Amy C. Watson, one of the leading researchers in the world on the subject.

As addressed, this expert suggests that Mentalympians,” is an exciting and innovative initiative that promotes awareness of stigma, discrimination and most importantly recovery along with fellowship, support, and empowerment at the global and local levels.”

July 22, 2009

Self Stigma and Mentalympians

Amy C Watson, PhD

Researchers are beginning to understand what many people with the lived experience of mental illness already know-mental illness stigma can wear away at a person’s sense of self and make him or her feel isolated and at times worthless and hopeless. Fortunately, we are also beginning to understand factors that help people buffer themselves and regain a sense of hope and worth. Below, I briefly describe the self stigma process, consequences, and factors that show promise for combating self stigma and promoting hope and recovery.

Prior to the onset and diagnosis of mental illness, most individuals are aware of and may even endorse cultural stereotypes about the group “the mentally ill.” Once diagnosed with a mental illness, these stereotypes become relevant to the self, as individuals anticipate and experience negative reactions from others. As a result, people may limit their social contacts and opportunities in order to shield themselves from stigma and discrimination. Unfortunately, this protective isolation may prevent people from accessing the support and opportunities important to recovery and full inclusion in the community. The impact of stigma on the self may not stop there. Individuals with mental illness may also self stigmatize (Corrigan & Watson, 2002). This occurs when they move beyond simply being aware of and actually apply the negative stereotypes they have learned about people with mental illness to themselves, feel they are different and less valuable than others and subsequently limit the social, occupational and other opportunities they allow themselves to pursue. In this case, they are not limiting the opportunities they pursue solely protect themselves from negative reactions from others but also because they feel unworthy or incapable. Obviously, this process further interferes with a person’s ability to pursue life goals and maintain his or her quality of life.

Research on self stigma confirms that it is associated with lower self esteem and self efficacy (Watson, Corrigan, Larson & Sells, 2007). The greatest distress appears to be related to the alienation (Ritscher and Phelan, 2004). Fortunately, this research also points to protective factors. Refuting the legitimacy of mental illness stigma and discrimination and seeing oneself in fellowship with the larger group of people with mental illness may interrupt the self stigma process and promote greater hope and empowerment (Lysaker et al., 2006; Watson, Corrigan, Larson & Sells, 2007). As Ritscher and Phelan (2004) suggest, “What is needed is an antidote to alienation: interpersonal engagement, such as that provided by the fellowship of self-help groups…. (p.264).”

Thus, research suggests that stigma awareness raising approaches and efforts to build self help and social support may be useful for addressing self stigma. is an exciting and innovative initiative that promotes awareness of stigma, discrimination and most importantly recovery along with fellowship, support, and empowerment at the global and local levels.

Lysaker, P. H., Buck, K. D., Hammoud, K., Taylor, A. C., & Roe, D. (2006). Associations of symptoms, psychosocial function and hope with qualities of self-experience in schizophrenia: Comparisons of objective and subjective indicators of health. Schizophrenia research, 82(2-3), 241-249.

Ritsher, J. B., & Phelan, J. C. (2004). Internalized stigma predicts erosion of morale among psychiatric outpatients. Psychiatry Research, 129(3), 257–265

Watson, A. C., Corrigan, P. W., Larson, J. E., & Sells, M. (2007). Self stigma in people with mental illness. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 33(6), 1312-1318.

Amy C Watson, PhD is an Assistant Professor at the Jane Addams College of Social Work, University of Illinois at Chicago. Dr. Watson is an active member and former Project Director of Chicago Consortium for Stigma Research (CCSR), an interdisciplinary group of researchers dedicated to studying mental illness stigma, its consequences, and strategies for attitude change. She has conducted research examining the attitudes of youth, police officers and the general public; self stigma; and stigma change strategies. Her current research focuses on the interface of the mental health and criminal justice systems and factors influencing how individuals with mental illness are processed by these systems. She was recently awarded the John M. Davis, MD Researcher of the Year Award from NAMI of Greater Chicago.

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