Understanding the roles of adults and peers in the development of stigma towards ADHD: Contributions from three experimental studies

Presentation First Author: 
Eilis Hennessy

There are many reasons to believe that mental health stigma experienced during childhood and adolescence has serious negative developmental consequences. In childhood, exclusion from the peer group may interfere with the development of important social skills and in adolescence the experience of being stigmatized may inhibit the development of a positive personal identity. Therefore, understanding the nature and developmental course of mental health stigma must be a primary concern for all those who are charged with helping young people with mental health problems.

In recent years a growing body of research points to the existence of widespread stigma towards young people with common mental health problems during childhood and adolescence. In addition, young people with mental health difficulties report negative or unfair treatment from their peers. For example, young people with ADHD are more likely to experience exclusion from their peer group than typically developing peers. Evidence also suggests that young people presented as having mental health problems are liked less and accepted less than young people with physical disabilities. Despite growing evidence that such stigma is widespread, little is known about the factors that influence its development.

This paper presents the results of three experimental studies designed to investigate possible sources of stigma towards a peer with symptoms of ADHD. Each study (c 150 participants each) was designed to investigate responses to stigmatizing information from a different source. The first and second studies compare participants’ responses to (i) direct observation of a child being excluded from a group of peers (in an online game or a outdoor space) with (ii) hearing children report that they routinely exclude an individual. The third study explores reactions to competing sources of information, contrasting reactions to an adult’s exhortation to include everyone in activities with peer reports of regular exclusion.

In the almost complete absence of data on how mental health stigma develops, experimental studies are uniquely placed to offer causal information that could make a substantial contribution to the development of interventions that prevent or reduce stigma. A full understanding of stigma development requires research to focus on its developmental origins. Only when we know what factors have the most significant impact on stigma will we be able to intervene appropriately.

Conference Name: 
Date of Presentation: 
10th Oct 2015
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