Interlocking oppressions: the effect of a comorbid physical disability on perceived stigma and discrimination among mental health consumers in Canada

Allison Bahm, Cheryl Forchuk
Health & Social Care in the Community 2009, 17 (1): 63-70
People living with mental health problems often face stigma and discrimination; however, there is a lack of research that examines how comorbid conditions affect this perceived stigma. This study sought to determine whether people who have a comorbid physical and psychiatric disability experience more stigma than those with only a psychiatric disability. It also looked at how perceived stigma and discrimination affect physical and mental health. A secondary analysis on data from interviews with 336 former and current clients of the mental health system in a mid-size Canadian city in 2005 was performed. Of these, 203 (60.4%) reported they had a psychiatric disability, 112 (33.0%) reported that they had a physical disability, with 74 reporting both a psychiatric and a physical disability. People with a self-reported psychiatric disability and a self-reported comorbid physical disability faced more overall perceived discrimination/stigma (P = 0.04), than those with a psychiatric disability alone. Perceived discrimination/stigma was positively correlated with psychiatric problem severity (P = 0.02), and negatively correlated with self-rated general health (P < 0.001), physical condition (P < 0.001), emotional well-being (P < 0.001) and life satisfaction (P < 0.001). These results bring to light the aggravating effect of a physical disability on the perceived stigma for those living with a mental illness, and also strengthen the knowledge that stigma and discrimination have a negative impact on health. Healthcare providers should recognise this negative impact and screen for these comorbid conditions. Policy-makers should take measures such as improving access to housing and employment services to help reduce stigma and discrimination against this particularly vulnerable group.

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