Stigma remains an impediment to seeking and receiving the requisite care for mental illness. To enhance a local National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) affiliate’s understanding of community members’ perceptions of mental illness and its associated stigma, a community-based participatory action research study was conducted. The study addressed the following research question: how do community members understand and experience the stigma associated with mental illness? Twenty-two participant-researchers wore mental illness labeled T-shirts around the local community, recorded their observations and reflections of this experience and recruited twenty-two community members for semi-structured interviews about mental illness stigma. Domain analysis of the interviews revealed community members’ understandings of (1) sources of stigma, (2) impacts of stigma, (3) conceptualizations of stigma and (4) pathways to change stigma. Findings were presented to members of the local NAMI affiliate as well as other community members. Practical implications, specific to the community of interest, are discussed.


Stigma, Mental Illness, Participatory Action Research, Mental Health Self Help Groups


The authors appreciate the contributions of the participant-researchers involved in this study: Elizabeth A. Bettini, Kevin Lee Clarke, Ronald R. Del Moro, Shaunte Shama Elliot, Vivian E. Gonsalves, Zeerak S. Haider, Angela G. Hooser, Yu-Yun Huang, Lauren Thibodeaux Lee, Yoonjeong Lim, Sharon P. Lutz, Ashley G. Miller, Emily Sara Ott, Mary K. Rodgers, Jasmine Brooke Ulmer, Lindsay B. Vecchio, Jill L. Welsh, Rhonda L. Williams, Timothy J. Wilson.

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