Awareness of stigma among persons with schizophrenia: marking the contexts of lived experience

Janis Hunter Jenkins, Elizabeth A Carpenter-Song
Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 2009, 197 (7): 520-9
This article investigates the subjective experience of stigma attached to schizophrenia-related disorders. We examine data from anthropological interviews from a community sample of 90 out-patients residing in a metropolitan area of the United States. Patients were under treatment with atypical antipsychotic medication, and their symptoms were for the most part relatively well controlled. Overall, 96% of participants reported an awareness of stigma that permeated their daily life. Based on an understanding of stigma as a product of interpersonal, reciprocal social processes, we identify 6 types of social relations and 5 identity domains in which social stigma is routinely encountered by participants. We describe the experience of stigma in each of these 11 subcategories, and suggest that taken together they constitute a framework of social and personal factors involved in the struggle to recover from psychotic illness. Among types of social relations, anonymous social interactions most commonly generated an awareness of stigma. Among identity domains, being a person who regularly takes medication was most commonly associated with an awareness of stigma. The finding that multiple forms of stigma are encountered irrespective of substantial symptomatic, functional, and subjectively perceived improvement creates a complex situation of stigma despite recovery.

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