First Advisor

Lauren Frank

Date of Publication

Fall 1-18-2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Communication




Stigma (Social psychology), Mental illness -- Public opinion -- Case studies, Mental depression -- Public opinion -- Case studies



Physical Description

1 online resource (vii, 78 pages)


This study tested whether participants exposed to a vignette describing an individual experiencing symptoms of depression, which included only the specific diagnosis label of "depression," would report significantly less stigmatized responses than participants exposed to an otherwise identical vignette which included only the non-specific diagnosis label "mental illness." The study is grounded in past research on stigmatization of mental illness and is informed by three theoretical frameworks, the social identity perspective, attribution theory, and labeling theory. Participants were randomly assigned to read one of the two alternate vignettes, then respond to a series of measures testing desire for social distance, negative emotion (affective reaction), beliefs about people with mental illness, and perceived dangerousness of the character in response to the vignette they viewed.

The results showed that labelling the character in the vignettes as struggling with "mental illness" did lead to greater perceived dangerousness of the character described, although labelling did not lead to more stigmatization in any of the other measures. This research demonstrated that people tend to consider a character in a vignette as less trustworthy and more of a risk based solely on the label "mental illness." The experiment also tested if people who have had a personal relationship with someone who has experienced mental illness will have less stigmatized responses to mental illness vignettes, but no significant difference was shown. Overall, the results imply that use of specific language in communication labelling an individual as experiencing a mental health condition is less stigmatizing than non-specific language and may improve chances for successful treatment-seeking and future patient outcomes.

Persistent Identifier

Included in

Communication Commons