An Ecological Approach to Understanding the Stigma Associated with Receiving Mental Health Services: The Role of Social Proximity

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Virginia Tech

Mental health services suffer the substantial limitation of helping only those who seek their assistance. Previous research has demonstrated that mental health stigma, including social and self-stigma, is one of the most significant barriers to an individual seeking available mental health services. Additionally, low levels of social proximity to mental illness may be a significant factor in increased social and self-stigma. Informed by ecological systems theory, this research examined demographic (i.e., gender, race/ethnicity, university) and social proximity factors (i.e., level of familiarity with mental illness and mental health services) that contributed to the mental health stigma associated with seeking mental health services within a university population. Web-based survey responses from 410 undergraduate students at two universities were obtained. A series of hierarchical multiple regression analyses revealed that while controlling for gender, race/ethnicity, and university, having personally received mental health services predicted lower levels of mental health self-stigma. Consistent with previous findings, a significant predictive quality of social stigma towards self-stigma was also found. However, none of the models utilizing social proximity factors to predict social stigma were significant. Implications for practice and future research are discussed.

service barriers, mental health, stigma