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Information vs. inspiration: Evaluating the effectiveness of mental illness stigma-reduction messages.

  • Author(s): Kroska, Amy;
  • Harkness, Sarah K
  • et al.

Numerous countries, communities, and organizations have conducted campaigns aimed at reducing the stigma of mental illness. Using an online experiment, we evaluate the relative effectiveness of three types of campaign messages (information about the biological origins of an illness, information about the psycho-social origins of an illness, and inspirational information about the competence of those with an illness) for reducing the perceived stigma (how I think others feel) and personal stigma (how I personally feel) tied to two illnesses (depression and schizophrenia). Drawing on expectation states theories (EST), affect control theories (ACT), and past research, we expected all three messages to reduce both types of stigma, with their relative effectiveness following this order: competence > psycho-social > biology. We find that the messages are more effective at reducing personal stigma than perceived stigma and that the competence message reduces both types of stigma more effectively than the other messages. More specifically, we find that (1) none of the messages reduce the perceived stigma of depression, (2) only the competence message consistently reduces the perceived stigma of schizophrenia, (3) only the competence message reduces personal stigma toward individuals with depression, and (4) all three messages reduce personal stigma toward individuals with schizophrenia and do so equally well. The findings provide support for propositions in EST and ACT and suggest that stigma-reduction campaigns that focus on the competence and capabilities of individuals with a mental illness will be more effective than those that focus on information about the origins of mental illness.

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