Peer education as a strategy for reducing internalized stigma among depressed older adults

Kyaien O Conner, Symone A McKinnon, Christine J Ward, Charles F Reynolds, Charlotte Brown
Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal 2015, 38 (2): 186-93

OBJECTIVE: This article examines the mechanisms through which peer educator (PE) intervention targets and reduces internalized stigma. There is substantial evidence that internalized stigma negatively impacts the lives of those suffering with mental health concerns, and has been identified as 1 of the most significant barriers to seeking professional mental health services. There has been a push toward identifying interventions and programs that effectively reduce and mitigate the impact of internalized stigma. Research suggests that contact with other individuals who share a stigmatized condition may be a promising approach to targeting and reducing internalized stigma. However, there is a dearth of research that has identified the mechanism through which this contact impacts internalized stigma.

METHODS: Study participants (n = 19) completed a 3-month PE intervention. Each participant was matched with an older adult with a history of depression currently in recovery who provided psychoeducation, social support, and motivational interviewing. Participants completed a demographic questionnaire, public stigma (PDD), and internalized stigma (Internalized Stigma of Mental Illness, ISMI) scales pre- and post-PE intervention. They further participated in a brief semistructured qualitative interview to attain in-depth information about their perceptions of stigma and of working with a PE.

RESULTS: Overall, internalized stigma scores were significantly reduced after participating in the PE intervention. In addition, participants identified 4 mechanisms through which contact with their PE impacted their stigmatized beliefs: age related concerns, shared understanding, improved mental health literacy, and mutual support.

CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE: This study suggests that PE is a potentially valuable approach toward reducing internalized stigma among older adults with depression.

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