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Science AMA Series: I’m Dr. Stephen Hinshaw, a professor of psychology at UCSF/Berkeley. I study mental illness and how human societies use stigma to deal with so-called “aberrant” behavior. AMA!
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Hi Reddit! Stigma is a Greek term, denoting a literal mark or brand burned into the skin of members of groups deemed unfit for society. In modern times most stigma is psychological, referring to the subtler but still devastating “mark” of being part of an unfit group. Throughout history and across cultures, many characteristics have been stigmatized, from physical disability or minority status to sexual orientation and mental illness. Some of these characteristics are overt and visible, but others are potentially concealable. These kinds of hidden stigmas can be especially troublesome, because the individuals in question may constantly wonder whether their characteristics are “leaking,” adding layers of tension and uncertainty to every social encounter. Research has demonstrated that self-stigmatization predicts never getting engaged in treatment for people with mental disorders—or dropping out prematurely if treatment has begun. As cultures evolve, a number of formerly stigmatized traits or attributes can become far more acceptable (left-handedness was once considered disgraceful). Yet mental illness and intellectual disability have received extremely harsh stigma throughout history and across nearly all cultures. Theories abound as to the persisting stigma of mental illness: •Encountering people who are unpredictable threatens the observer’s own stability •In hierarchical societies, we tend to blame those ‘below’ us for their own problems, justifying our own, ‘higher’ position •The sheer conditioning related to common media portrayals of aggression and incompetence becomes deeply entrenched •From an evolutionary perspective, signs of disease, low social capital, and major cultural difference may trigger automatic “exclusion modules.” Indeed, mental illness is in many respects the last frontier for human rights. I’m eager to discuss it. Here is a link to a UCSF story about mental illness and stigma: http://tiny.ucsf.edu/rt4P77 Here is a link to my lab and more of my research: http://psychology.berkeley.edu/people/stephen-hinshaw Thanks for the questions, it’s 1:00 Eastern, and I’ll now start in answering. It’s 3:00 Eastern, thanks for the remarkable questions…sorry I couldn’t get to them all, I’m signing off for today!