Grad Research Snapshot: Liz Felix
Researchers and policy makers alike are increasingly interested in whether mental health stigma can be reduced through social contact with people who disclose mental health issues. For example, if an individual has a co-worker who shares that they have depression, the individual may be more likely to reject negative stereotypes (e.g., the belief that people with mental illness are violent or unpredictable) after interacting with their co-worker over time. Empirical findings on interpersonal contact and stigmatizing attitudes, however, are inconsistent. These discrepancies could reflect an issue with how social contact is measured: researchers often focus on the presence of social ties without investigating the meaning of those relationships. Social relationships can be positive and supportive but also negative and stressful. In order to capture the complexity of these relationships, this study utilizes a unique data collection method to measure social contact by quantifying the presence of individuals with mental health issues in a respondent’s social circle and qualifying the nature of those connections in terms of positive and negative affect. Results show that, compared to respondents without any contact, naming more mental health contacts is associated with reduced explicit stigma but only when those relations are perceived positively. Respondents reporting predominantly negative or “difficult” relationships are equally likely to endorse negative stereotypes compared to those with no mental health contacts.