Despite efforts to broaden public perceptions of mental illness, individuals who suffer from mental illnesses continue to experience the negative impact of public stigma. Negative consequences of stigma include its erosive effect on self-evaluation and mental health, particularly among individuals who internalize harmful stereotypes. The proposed research draws from identity and stigma theories to examine mental illness as a stigmatized identity. Identity theorists have traditionally focused on normative or socially acceptable identities; finding that individuals seek consistency between how they view themselves (self-view) and how they think others view them (reflected appraisals). This process, referred to as identity verification, has not been confirmed with stigmatized identities. Stigma scholars focus on non-normative identities such criminals or individuals who suffer from mental illness; however, while these scholars make a case for the negative impact of public perceptions on the self-evaluation of individuals suffering with mental illness, empirical support for this relationship has been mixed. This may be because some individuals use coping strategies to deflect (that’s not me) and/or challenge (that’s not accurate) stigmatizing stereotypes about mental illness. In this study, we use quantitative and qualitative techniques to develop measures for stigmatized self-views and reflected appraisals for the mental illness identity. We then explore the relationship between these identity measures and well-being for individuals with mental illness. Finally, we explore extent to which coping strategies such as deflection and challenging help to reduce the negative impact of stigma.
Despite efforts to broaden public perceptions of mental illness, those who suffer from mental illnesses continue to experience stigma. Identity theorists have shown that consistency between how people see themselves and how they perceive others see them promotes mental health; however, this pattern has not been confirmed with stigmatized identities. Stigma scholars have argued that perceived negative stereotypes regarding mental illness are erosive to well-being, but empirical support is mixed. This study combines identity and stigma theories to better understand mental illness as a stigmatized identity. Our study has three goals: to measure self-views and public perceptions of those with mental illnesses, to explore the relationship between stigmatized identity measures and well-being, and to explore how coping strategies might reduce the negative impact of stigma.