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Reducing the Stigma of Mental Illness Among Adolescents and Young Adults: The Effects of Treatment Information



The stigma of mental illness is pervasive in adolescents and interferes with treatment and overall life quality for those with disorders. A strategy for reducing stigma is to create awareness of counterstereotypes that can undermine the perceived homogeneity of the stigmatized group and promote help seeking for those with the illness. This study tested the strategy by presenting counterstereotypical information about the effectiveness of treatment for major depression in a national survey of youth ages 14 to 22 (N = 1,258), some of whom had experienced symptoms of depression (N = 284). The information was presented either before or after evaluating an untreated person with major depression. Despite the stigma of the mental illness stereotype, respondents reported lower levels of unfavorable stereotype expectations and reduced stigma for an individual with major depression who had been successfully treated compared with one who was not treated. The effect was robust across differences in beliefs about treatment efficacy and experiences with symptoms of depression; it was even stronger when the counterstereotypical information was presented after respondents evaluated an untreated person. The results indicate that messages focusing on persons who have been successfully treated are part of a promising strategy for reducing the stigma of mental illness in young people.