New Ways to Knock Down Stigma

stigmaPenn State University researchers conducted a study that suggests two-way and multidisciplinary interventions are effective emerging methods used to reduce stigmas.[1]

Assistant Professor of Psychology at Penn State, Dr. Jonathan Cook, said, “We took an interdisciplinary approach to understanding how to reduce health disparities due to the effects of social stigma, including stigmas based on race, sexual orientation, and chronic illness.”1

Stigmas continue to be a troubling aspect of society; therefore, researchers believe that a more dedicated effort to reduce them may be more successful, leading to the increased treatment of many health issues1 Stigma results when a negative stereotype becomes attached to a particular characteristic, leading people with this specific characteristic to be seen as less than others.1 These people become a separate group—outcaste. This makes the group a target for discrimination and social exclusion.1

According to Cook and colleagues, many of the current coping methods for reducing stigma have either been focused at the individual, group, or structural level, but rarely all of them at once.1 At the individual and group levels, intervention is focused on providing education and intergroup contact for people of non-stigmatized groups.1 This helps them to develop coping strategies for members of stigmatized groups.1 At the structural level, interventions focus on changing laws and media portrayal.1 Cook and colleagues state that stronger interdisciplinary collaboration may help fight stigma from multiple angles at once.1

“We found that people don’t often look at outcomes across the disciplines, and people haven’t done much longitudinal work in this area,” said Cook. “It’s important to look at intervention outcomes over longer periods of time to better understand how change takes place.”1

Cook and colleagues found that educational approaches are effective in reducing stigmas against mental health and HIV/AIDS.1 For example, after providing HIV testing, education, and counseling to residents of Zambia for six months, a decrease in stigmatizing attitudes was found.1

Also, legislative interventions have been shown to improve the health of stigmatized groups.1 For example, in the 1960s and 1970s, following the Civil Rights Act, there was a significant drop in the mortality rates of African Americans, especially in the country’s southern states.1

“Interventions can take place at multiple points in the system. It may be most effective to simultaneously focus on change at the individual level and larger societal level,” said Cook. “Change can be implemented from the bottom up more often, even while efforts at structural change from the top down are still occurring.”1

[1] Nauert, R. (2014). Finding New Ways to Attack Stigma. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/02/21/finding-new-ways-to-attack-stigma/66211.html

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