Decrease Stigma Effects on People Recovering from Mental Illness and HIV with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Stigma is considered a mark of disgrace, discredit, and judgment that results in discrimination and exclusion. For people struggling with mental or emotional disturbances, the experience of stigmatization can easily become internalized and result in a profound sense of shame, secrecy, and social isolation. When someone is already experiencing significant internal conflicts, interpersonal difficulties, or severe mental illness, stigmatization by others only serves to intensify suffering. Imagine the potential difference that you can make in the lives of those who are struggling with mental health issues through increasing your own awareness, adopting a mindfully nonjudgmental attitude, and expressing compassion.” – Laura Schenck
Stigma is a view that a distinguishing characteristic makes the individual less acceptable to others. This can lead to discrimination where stigmatized people are treated negatively either directly with ugly remarks such as “crazy” or “weird” or indirectly by being avoided or marginalized by others. This can produce fewer work opportunities, harassment, bullying, problems with insurance, and loneliness. The social isolation can even lead to early mortality. Stigma can lead to low self-esteem and self-stigmatization in which the individual adopts that negative stereotypes and as a result there is a loss of self-efficacy This leads to the individual ceasing trying to make things better, thinking “why try?”
Stigmas are associated with a number of different characteristics, situations, and diseases. Very common stigmas involve mental illness and HIV infection, both of which are viewed negatively. Indeed, in some studies, it has been found that over half of the interviewees had very negative attitudes toward people with either mental illness or HIV infection. Although efforts are being made to reduce these stigmas there is also a need to address the self-stigmatization process and the effect of the stigma on the individuals with mental illness and HIV infection.
Mindfulness promotes non-judgmental awareness in which the individual perceives things just as they are without labelling or making value judgements about them. It also promotes the ability to adaptively cope with emotions and reduces worry and rumination. These can be useful in overcoming stigmas and their effects, especially self-stigmas. Self-compassion by promoting positive self-perceptions can be an antidote to self-stigmatization. So, mindfulness and self-compassion may buffer the individual from the effects of stigma and self-stigmatization.
In today’s Research News article “The Differential Moderating Roles of Self-Compassion and Mindfulness in Self-Stigma and Well-Being Among People Living with Mental Illness or HIV.” (See summary below). Yang and Mak recruited adult individuals with mental illness or with HIV. They completed measures of mindfulness, self-compassion, self-stigma content and process, and life-satisfaction. These data were then used in a regression analysis to determine the interrelationships between stigma, mindfulness, and self-compassion, and the effects of stigmas.
They found that the higher the levels of mindfulness and self-compassion in the individuals with mental illness or HIV, the higher the levels of life satisfaction. Conversely, they found that the higher the levels of self-stigma content the lower the levels of life satisfaction. They also found that when self-compassion and mindfulness were low, self-stigma content was significantly and negatively associated with life satisfaction. But when self-compassion and mindfulness were high, self-stigma content was not significantly associated with life satisfaction. Hence mindfulness and self-compassion had beneficial associations on the quality of life in stigmatized individuals both directly and indirectly by buffering them against the negative effects of stigma.
It needs to be kept in mind that these results are correlational and causation cannot be concluded. But, the beneficial associations of mindfulness and self-compassion with reduced stigma effects, suggests that training in mindfulness and self-compassion may be beneficial for people with mental illness and HIV in overcoming stigma effects and improving their quality of life. The present results are sufficiently encouraging to justify a randomized controlled trial of the effects of mindfulness and self-compassion training on stigmatized individuals. Developing mindfulness and self-compassion in stigmatized individuals may markedly improve the lives of these suffering individuals.
So, Decrease Stigma Effects on People Recovering from Mental Illness and HIV with Mindfulness.
“So, the bad news is that there may not be a way to stop processing automatic, stigmatizing thoughts. However, the good news, according to Inzlicht and Segal, is that we don’t need to. Instead, we should focus on having good intentions to not stigmatize and remain aware and nonjudgmentally accepting of these automatic thoughts–so as not to act on them. Considering the thousands of automatic thoughts each person has everyday, mindfulness may be a good start to ensuring that what we believe coincides with how we act. And this may, ultimately, contribute to the betterment of the live’s of those afflicted with mental illness.” – Veerpal Bambrah
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Yang, X. & Mak, W.W.S. The Differential Moderating Roles of Self-Compassion and Mindfulness in Self-Stigma and Well-Being Among People Living with Mental Illness or HIV. Mindfulness (2017) 8: 595. doi:10.1007/s12671-016-0635-4
In addition to endorsing the content of stigmatizing thoughts (self-stigma “content”), how frequently and automatically individuals think about these thoughts (self-stigma “process”) also have implications for their well-being. The present study examined the roles of self-compassion and mindfulness in moderating the relationships of self-stigma content and process with subjective well-being of people in recovery of mental illness (PMI) and people living with HIV (PLHIV). Participants included 169 PMI and 291 PLHIV in Hong Kong who reported their levels of self-compassion, mindfulness, self-stigma content and process, and life satisfaction. Path analyses indicated that the proposed model fitted the two samples well, χ2(10) = 19, p = .04, CFI = .98, NNFI = .93, and RMSEA = .04. In both groups, self-compassion and mindfulness were significantly associated with life satisfaction. Self-compassion moderated the relationship between self-stigma content and life satisfaction among PLHIV, while mindfulness moderated the relationship between self-stigma process and life satisfaction among PMI. The differential moderating roles of self-compassion and mindfulness in buffering the effects of self-stigma content and process among PMI and PLHIV were identified, and implications for stigma reduction and well-being promotion in different stigmatized groups were discussed.