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01-06-2017 | Original Article | Uitgave 3/2017 Open Access

Perspectives on Medical Education 3/2017

Labelling of mental illness in a paediatric emergency department and its implications for stigma reduction education

Perspectives on Medical Education > Uitgave 3/2017
Javeed Sukhera, Kristina Miller, Alexandra Milne, Christina Scerbo, Rodrick Lim, Alicia Cooper, Chris Watling
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Editor’s Note: Commentary by: H. Stuart doi:10.​1007/​s40037-017-0334-4.



Stigmatizing attitudes and behaviours towards patients with mental illness have negative consequences on their health. Despite research regarding educational and social contact-based interventions to reduce stigma, there are limitations to the success of these interventions for individuals with deeply held stigmatizing beliefs. Our study sought to better understand the process of implicit mental illness stigma in the setting of a paediatric emergency department to inform the design of future educational interventions.


We conducted a qualitative exploration of mental illness stigma with interviews including physician, nurse, service user, caregiver and administrative staff participants (n = 24). We utilized the implicit association test as a discussion prompt to explore stigma outside of conscious awareness. We conducted our study utilizing constructivist grounded theory methodology, including purposeful theoretical sampling and constant comparative analysis.


Our study found that the confluence of socio-cultural, cognitive and emotional forces results in labelling of patients with mental illness as time-consuming, unpredictable and/or unfixable. These labels lead to unintentional avoidance behaviours from staff which are perceived as prejudicial and discriminatory by patients and caregivers. Participants emphasized education as the most useful intervention to reduce stigma, suggesting that educational interventions should focus on patient-provider relationships to foster humanizing labels for individuals with mental illness and by promoting provider empathy and engagement.


Our results suggest that educational interventions that target negative attributions, consider socio-cultural contexts and facilitate positive emotions in healthcare providers may be useful. Our findings may inform further research and interventions to reduce stereotypes towards marginalized groups in healthcare settings.
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