Brian K. Ahmedani, PhD

Determinants of stigma: A comparison of health, mental health and drug use conditions

Psychiatric conditions are among the leading causes of the global burden of disease, but stigma has been cited as one important barrier to engaging this population in treatment. My dissertation research aims to assess stigma on three levels in relation to individuals with health, mental health, and drug use conditions. One level, social stigma is evident in society, while self-stigma reflects a person’s internalization of social stigma. Health professionals can also stigmatize individuals with health conditions.

My work uses a combination of samples, including the World Mental Health Surveys administered to over 123,000 participants in 24 countries, and a smaller survey of 222 social work and medical students. Interestingly, my research showed that families were most embarrassed by their relatives with psychiatric conditions as compared to general physical health conditions. Also, individuals with mood disorders experienced more self-stigma compared to those without mood or drug use disorders. Finally, I found that health professional students were less willing to treat individuals with nicotine or alcohol dependence than depression. In future work, I plan to further assess these ‘levels’ of stigma and the ways they impact the lives of individuals, particularly those with psychiatric conditions. Health professionals, including social workers, must consider ways they can work to reduce stigma through future research, education, policy, and practice.