A Contextual Approach to the Psychological Study of Stigma and Minority Mental Health
Research on the mental health of minority group members—including racial/ethnic minorities, sexual and gender minorities, and immigrant populations—has demonstrated that stigma is a key psychosocial determinant of psychopathology across diverse groups. Stigma has been conceptualized in the literature as a multi-level construct, ranging from intrapersonal processes (e.g., internalized stigma) and interpersonal interactions (e.g., discrimination) to structural factors (e.g., laws, institutional practices, cultural norms). However, psychological research has focused almost exclusively on intra- and inter-personal stigma processes, despite repeated calls by psychologists to pay greater attention to structural and contextual factors that influence stigma processes. My research program has addressed this knowledge gap by introducing a novel contextual approach to the psychological study of stigma. We have done so through documenting how structural forms of stigma—which we define as societal-level conditions, cultural norms, and institutional policies and practices that constrain the opportunities, resources, and wellbeing of the stigmatized—affect stigmatized populations.In this talk, I will review observational, quasi-experimental, and laboratory studies from our research group that 1) document the mental health consequences of structural stigma for members of stigmatized groups, and 2) identify biopsychosocial mechanisms linking structural stigma to adverse mental health outcomes. I will also discuss future directions for this work, including addressing whether structural stigma may undermine the efficacy of clinical interventions.