Elementary school children's stigmatization of children with mental illness

Yvonne M Fausett, University of Rhode Island


Stigmatization of those with mental illness, while well-researched among the adult population, has not received as much empirical attention in relation to children as the targets of stigmatization or as the perpetuators of stigmatization. It has been speculated in the adult literature that the stigmatization of adults with mental illness by other adults is a product of childhood socialization. This study seeks to investigate the developmental trajectory of stigmatization, beginning in childhood. To this end, the Children's Stigmatization Measure (CSM) was generated as a self-report measure consisting of 4 clinical vignettes (e.g., Anxiety, Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder, Depression, Normal), with 10 closed-ended questions and a 5 point Likert scale response choice. Participants (N = 116) were drawn from a local parochial school's 4 th, 5th, and 6th grades. ^ In relation to adult target sex, males have been more frequently stigmatized by both sexes, possibly as a consequence of the “feminizing” nature of illness in general and the violations of sex norms. And in terms of respondent sex, adult males have tended to stigmatize to a greater extent for the same reason. Some studies have found that externalizing disorders have been stigmatized to a larger degree as a result of the discomfort that is visited upon others as compared to that which is focused on the self (i.e., internalized). Based upon these findings, the following questions were posed: (1) Does stigmatization increase with age/grade level? (2) Will girls stigmatize to a greater extent than boys (due to more social awareness)? (3) Will boys be stigmatized more? (4) Will stigmatization scores be higher for the disordered group versus the comparison? (5) Will externalizing disorders (e.g., ADHD) be stigmatized to a greater extent than internalizing disorders (e.g., Depression)? ^ A mixed analysis of variance (ANOVA) and a principle component analysis (PCA) were performed and the results provided partial support for the findings in the adult literature. As anticipated, the children were able to discern between the disordered groups and the normal comparison. Further, the disorder with the most prominent externalizing features (i.e., ADHD) was the most stigmatized, particularly as paired with a female target. Finally, a reverse developmental trajectory pattern for stigmatization emerged as the 4th graders stigmatized to a larger extent than did the 5th and 6 th graders. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Social|Psychology, Developmental|Sociology, General

Recommended Citation

Yvonne M Fausett, "Elementary school children's stigmatization of children with mental illness" (2003). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3115627.