The Health and Social Implications of Stigmatization for Individuals with Concealable Stigmas: Using Survey and Experimental Methods to Build Theory
Two distinct studies investigated the effects of stigmatization and coping on health and social outcomes for individuals with concealable stigmas. Study 1 investigated rape in South Africa. Specifically, it examined the effect of public stigma and self-stigma on PTSD and depressive symptoms, and the role of approach and avoidance coping as mediators of these relationships. A total of 173 women aged 17 to 50 who reported rape within the past 6 months were interviewed at two sites in the Limpopo and Northwest Province of South Africa. Results revealed that greater perceptions of self- and public stigma were related to higher levels of both PTSD and depressive symptoms. Greater coping through avoidance fully mediated the relationship between higher levels of public stigma and PTSD symptoms, and partially mediated the relationship between higher levels of self-stigma and PTSD symptoms. Approach coping was not significantly associated with either PTSD or depressive symptoms. These findings provide insight into the experiences and effects of stigma for this vulnerable population and have important implications for interventions aimed at improving post-assault recovery. Study 2 was a laboratory study on disclosing concealable stigmas. Disclosing a concealable stigma may benefit individuals by soliciting social support from others, but such disclosure may also engender prejudice and discrimination. One disclosure strategy that may increase the likelihood of receiving social support is the provision of emotional information. In the present study, participants heard a pre-recorded interview of a confederate disclosing either breast cancer or genital herpes and providing either (a) information about the stigmatized condition only, or (b) information about the stigmatized condition plus the associated emotional experience. Results revealed that in the information-only condition, disclosing genital herpes elicited greater rejection and less support compared to disclosing breast cancer. However, in the information plus emotion condition, disclosure of genital herpes received greater positivity, yielding no difference in support or rejection compared to disclosure of breast cancer. Analysis revealed that positive impressions of the target's personal characteristics (as more responsible, warm, etc.) mediated this effect for the genital herpes condition. In sum, emotional expression may decrease negative reactions to disclosure of stigmatized conditions.