Interventions to reduce public stigma of mental illness and suicide – are they effective?

The aim of this systematic literature review of reviews is to increase knowledge about interventions to reduce public stigma related to mental health problems, mental illness and suicide, and to explore the effectiveness of the interventions. Results indicate that anti-stigma interventions that include social contact, education and information, as well as multi-component interventions, using several strategies simultaneously seem to be effective measures to reduce stigma related to mental illness and suicide. Almost all studies report short-term effects, whereas the long term effects are unclear. Furthermore, we found no knowledge of whether stigma of less severe forms of mental health problems are affected by these interventions. Results are based on seven literature reviews where the effects are explored narratively. The report is aimed at officials and stakeholders at regional and local level who are involved in the planning of public health interventions to promote mental health and to prevent mental illness and suicide.

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Summary

People with mental health problems often experience stigmatization that can have serious consequences for their lives, such as difficulties in accessing housing,
employment, education and healthcare. Fear of discrimination and stigmatisation
can become a barrier against seeking health care, which can have a negative effect
on the physical and mental health of persons experiencing mental health problems.
This literature review aims to increase knowledge about interventions to reduce
stigma related to mental health problems, mental illness and suicide among the
public and to explore the effectiveness of the interventions. We screened the
literature through structured searches in scientific databases and screening of
reference sections. Out of the 1,945 identified publications, we found seven
reviews that were relevant in this review of reviews. The main focus of all of the
included studies was stigma related to mental illness and suicide, whereas not
much attention was given to less severe forms of mental health problems. We used
narrative synthesis to analyse the data.

The results indicated that anti-stigma interventions that included social contact,
education and information, as well as interventions using several strategies
simultaneously seemed to be the most effective to reduce mental illness and
suicide-related stigma. The results also suggested that the interventions appear to
improve the knowledge and attitude components of stigma rather than the
behavioural component. In addition, the investigated anti-stigma interventions of
mental illness and suicide appeared to be effective with small to moderate effect
sizes.

Our systematic review of reviews indicates that some interventions to reduce
stigma related to mental illness and suicide appear to be effective in improving
knowledge and attitudes in the general population, at least in the short term. Yet,
due to methodological limitations expressed by several authors of the identified
studies, the results should be interpreted with some caution. There is also a lack of
knowledge about the effects of anti-stigma interventions on public knowledge,
attitudes and behaviors associated with less severe forms of mental health
problems.

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  • Author: Folkhälsomyndigheten
  • Release date: 2019-05-02
  • Number of pages: 36
  • Article: 19015

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