Stigma as a Risk Factor for Anxiety Disorders

In earlier posts we’ve looked at how stigma can prevent people from getting the treatment they need for the mental health disorder they already have, but the findings from a cross sectional study released in August 2015 suggest that stigma might also function as a risk factor for developing a mental health disorder (Ali et al., 2015).  Ali and colleagues set out to see if an increased amount of self-reported stigma felt by people with varying levels of intellectual disability was related to more psychological distress and a lower quality of life; they also wanted to find out whether a higher amount of stigma was related to a lower use of services (2015).  Though the latter hypothesis was rejected by the research, the data did present a strong relationship between self-reported stigma and psychological distress, and the relationship seen here supports findings from previous research about the same relationship (Ali et al., 2015).

In this study, perceived stigma contributed greatly to one’s psychological distress, and psychological distress in general increases the likelihood of an individual developing anxiety, among other mental health disorders (Ali et al., 2015).  More research needs to be done to analyze the association between these factors, but the relationship found in this study suggests that experiencing stigma can put an individual at a higher risk of developing a mental health disorder, especially more vulnerable populations like those with intellectual disabilities (Ali et al., 2015).

I found this study and its outcomes to be important because a lot of the research I’ve seen has observed the effects of stigma on an individual’s life when that stigma concerns his or her mental health disorder, so I wasn’t often thinking about stigma surrounding other factors acting as a substantial contributor to developing a mental health disorder.  Stigma doesn’t affect everyone in the same way, but the findings here did show how crucial it is to eliminate all kinds of stigma in order to lessen the chances that people may develop certain mental health disorders.  Research like the work done here by Ali and colleagues is therefore important not only in prevention and intervention efforts, but it is also important in revealing the true extent of the effects of stigma.  Hopefully studies like this and others can bring about positive change in the behaviors of those who stigmatize others.


Ali, A., King, M., Strydom, A., Hassiotis, A. (2014). Self-reported stigma and symptoms of anxiety and depression in people with intellectual disabilities: Findings from a cross sectional study in England.  Journal of Affective Disorders, 187, 224-231.

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