This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Mental Health Labels and Their Effects on Public Stigma among College Students




Morris, Graham

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Special Education, Rehabilitation, Counseling


This study examined the relationship between labels used to refer to mental health, whether or not participants were asked to reflect on their preconceived notions around these labels, and endorsement of mental health stigma across multiple dimensions. Based on the body of literature addressing how mental health stigma is transmitted via the labels used to refer to mental health, it was predicted that mental health labels with a longer history of use, such as mental illness or psychiatric disorder, would carry more mental health stigma than newer labels like mental health concern or a control term of personal concern. The aim of providing evidence for these hypotheses was to provide a low-cost intervention for reducing stigma, choosing to use words with less stigma endorsed. Using a factorial design, this study examined the relationship between labels to refer to mental health— specifically, the labels mental illness, psychiatric disorder, and mental health concern, as well as a control term, personal concern— engagement (or not) in a reflective task around these mental health labels or control, and impact on endorsement of public stigma across two major dimension, negative emotional reactions and recoverability. Participants read a vignette involving a college student that included the mental health label or control randomly assigned to them before completing outcome measures. A total of 319 valid response sets were analyzed. Factorial ANCOVAs were utilized to compare the 4x2 conditions for both simple main effects and interactions after controlling for relevant factors. Results indicated very few significant differences in public stigma endorsed based on either mental health labels or engagement/lack thereof in the reflection task on either dimension of public stigma measured. The simple main effect with significant differences indicated participants reacted with higher endorsement of public stigma when presented with psychiatric disorder compared to those that were assigned mental health concern. Limitations and areas for future research and practice are discussed, including the implication that mental health stigma may look different within college populations or when perceiving lower severity distress or dysfunction, with previous research in the field focusing on broader populations and more severe mental health issues.