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The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
Board On Behavioral Cognitive and Sensory Sciences
Board On Behavioral Cognitive and Sensory Sciences
Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
 Ending Discrimination Against People with Mental and Substance Use Disorders:
The Evidence for Stigma Change

Stigma Change cover

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Estimates indicate that as many as 1 in 4 Americans will experience a mental health problem or will misuse alcohol or drugs in their lifetimes. These disorders are among the most highly stigmatized health conditions in the United States, and they remain barriers to full participation in society in areas as basic as education, housing, and employment. Improving the lives of people with mental health and substance abuse disorders has been a priority in the United States for more than 50 years. The Community Mental Health Act of 1963 is considered a major turning point in America’s efforts to improve behavioral healthcare. It ushered in an era of optimism and hope and laid the groundwork for the consumer movement and new models of recovery. The consumer movement gave voice to people with mental and substance use disorders and brought their perspectives and experience into national discussions about mental health.

However over the same 50-year period, positive change in American public attitudes and beliefs about mental and substance use disorders has lagged behind these advances. Stigma is a complex social phenomenon based on a relationship between an attribute and a stereotype that assigns undesirable labels, qualities, and behaviors to a person with that attribute. Labeled individuals are then socially devalued, which leads to inequality and discrimination. This report contributes to national efforts to understand and change attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that can lead to stigma and discrimination. Changing stigma in a lasting way will require coordinated efforts, which are based on the best possible evidence, supported at the national level with multiyear funding, and planned and implemented by an effective coalition of representative stakeholders.

Ending Discrimination Against People with Mental and Substance Use Disorders: The Evidence for Stigma Change explores stigma and discrimination faced by individuals with mental or substance use disorders and recommends effective strategies for reducing stigma and encouraging people to seek treatment and other supportive services. It offers a set of conclusions and recommendations about successful stigma change strategies and the research needed to inform and evaluate these efforts in the United States. 

Sponsors: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Committee Members

David H. Wegman (Chair), Emeritus, Department of Work and Environment, University of Massachusetts, Lowell
Beth Angell, School of Social Work, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Joseph N. Capella, University of Pennsylvania
Patrick W. Corrigan, Illinois Institute of Technology
William L. Holzemer, School of Nursing, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Clarence E. Jordan, Beacon Health Options, Norfolk, VA
Annie Lang, Indiana University
Bernice A. Pescosolido, Department of Sociology, Indiana State University
Ruth Shim, Department of Psychiatry, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York, NY
Rebecca Palpant Shimkets, The Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism, Atlanta, GA
Eric R. Wright, Georgia State University

Project Resources

Stigma Workshop ProceedingsLessons Learned from Diverse Efforts to Change Social Norms and Opportunities and Strategies to Promote Behavior Change in Behavioral Health: Proceedings of Two Workshops (2017)

This proceedings summarizes presentations and discussions at two workshops convened in 2015 by the committee. The workshops provided input to the committee’s deliberations and contributed to the development of the report Ending Discrimination Against People with Mental and Substance Use Disorders.

Workshop on Lessons Learned from Diverse Efforts to Change Social Norms

Agenda  |  Webcast and Presentations

Workshop on Opportunities and Strategies to Promote Behavior Change in Behavioral Health

Agenda  |  Webcast and Presentations

Papers Commissioned by the Project

A series of papers was commissioned by the Committee on the Science of Changing Behavioral Health Social Norms in order to synthesize the evidence base on social norms, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors toward persons with mental illness and substance use disorders.

visit our Commissioned paper archive for full details on these papers and to download a copy.


Renee Wilson, Senior Program Assistant




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