On Stigma and Its Consequences: Evidence from a Longitudinal Study of Men with Dual Diagnoses of Mental Illness and Substance Abuse

Numerous studies have demonstrated a strong connection between the experience of stigma and the well-being of the stigmatized. But in the area of mental illness there has been controversy surrounding the magnitude and duration of the effects of labeling and stigma. One of the arguments that has been used to downplay the importance of these factors is the substantial body of evidence suggesting that labeling leads to positive effects through mental health treatment. However, as Rosenfield (1997) points out, labeling can simultaneously induce both positive consequences through treatment and negative consequences through stigma. In this study we test whether stigma has enduring effects on well-being by interviewing 84 men with dual diagnoses of mental disorder and substance abuse at two points in time--at entry into treatment, when they were addicted to drugs and had many psychiatric symptoms and then again after a year of treatment, when they were far less symptomatic and largely drug- and alcohol-free. We found a relatively strong and enduring effect of stigma on well-being. This finding indicates that stigma continues to complicate the lives of the stigmatized even as treatment improves their symptoms and functioning. It follows that if health professionals want to maximize the well-being of the people they treat, they must address stigma as a separate and important factor in its own right. (Authors)

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Journal of Health and Social Behavior