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Stigma Stands as a Hurdle for Teens


By Zachary Culler, NAMI Media Relations Intern

In a recent article, researchers at Case Western Reserve University called for more exhaustive measures to gauge mental illness stigma in adolescents.

The authors of the article, which appeared in the Journal of Nursing Measurement, acknowledged rampant stigma surrounding mental health treatment among adolescents.

“Millions of young people do not receive mental health treatment every year. There are modifiable barriers to treatment, with an important barrier being stigma,” says Melissa Pinto, one of the authors. “Working to achieve a supportive social culture toward mental health, by removing stigma, will hopefully result in more young people receiving mental health treatment earlier in the course of illness.”

Pinto admitted that experts must better understand the nature of adolescent stigma before they can effectively combat it. Due to a scarcity of meaningful research on the topic, experts lack concrete metrics and data to explain the phenomenon.

“We need to find a reliable and valid way to measure the presence of stigma associated with mental illness among adolescents,” Pinto explained in a news release.

The researchers used an existing measure, the Revised Attribution Questionnaire, to test its validity and reliability among 210 high school students in the southern United States. While they deemed the self-report survey valid and reliable for that sample, the researchers advocated the need to study more diverse age groups throughout the country in order to attain a broader understanding of adolescent stigma.

“I hope that this study serves as a foundation to build on the science in this area,” Pinto says. “Peer culture is strong during the teen years, and mental disorders often first appear at this same time. It’s important that we tackle this problem during this period of development.”

While NAMI cannot do much to remedy the deficiencies of research institutions, its Child and Adolescent Action Center (CAAC) works to alleviate such stigma in teens and young adults. Most notably, NAMI hosts StrengthOfUs.Org, a social networking site that provides community and resources for youth living with mental illnesses. The CAAC plans to re-launch this resource in the coming months, possibly involving the introduction of an all-youth blog. StrengthOfUs.Org also fights stigma by offering educational support to loved ones of youth living with mental disorders.

In addition to these evergreen resources, the CAAC also works to host youth-targeted programs, such as Ending the Silence, at the state and local levels.

“It’s not only important for young people to understand what early-onset mental illness is, but also what it isn’t,” explains CAAC Director Darcy Gruttadaro. “We understand that we have to convey those messages online, in print, and in person.”