Anti-stigma programs needed to supplement laws made to protect persons with mental illness

Woodruff Health Sciences Center | March 17, 2013

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Melva Robertson
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melva.robertson@emory.edu

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"Stigma is comprised of four components: cues, stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination, but discrimination is the only component that can be directly addressed by laws," explains Cummings.

Existing federal laws strive to improve the rights and opportunities for those with mental illness, and according to researchers at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health, these laws could be more effective if supplemented with anti-stigma programs.

In a commentary in the May 2013 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, Emory researchers reviewed three landmark anti-discrimination laws that address mental health in terms of health care, education and employment:

  • the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008,
  • Education for all Handicapped Children Act of 1975 and
  • Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

"Stigma is comprised of four components: cues, stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination, but discrimination is the only component that can be directly addressed by laws," explains Janet R. Cummings, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management.

Because extant federal laws directly address discrimination, they provide an important foundation to improve disparities in health care, education and employment outcomes for those with mental illness that result from the stigma process. Despite this, the experts found that protections in the laws are not uniform for all subgroups with mental illness.   

Cummings adds that the effectiveness of existing and future laws can be bolstered with anti-stigma programs that address the other components of stigma, such as stereotypes and prejudice, which are not directly addressed by the laws. "Anti-stigma programs that target attitudes and behavioral intentions toward those with mental illness directly address components of public stigma that are beyond the reach of legislation," says Cummings.

Co-authors of, "Addressing public stigma and disparities among persons with mental illness: The role of federal policy," include Benjamin G. Druss and Stephen M. Lucas, of the Department of Health Policy and Management at Rollins School of Public Health.