A senior thesis by Caleigh Cassidy ’18, who graduated from Colorado College cum laude and with Distinction in Psychology, has been accepted for publication in the American Psychological Association journal Stigma and Health.
Cassidy’s thesis, “Assessing and Addressing Stigma in Bipolar Disorder: The Impact of Cause and Treatment Information,” notes that public stigma continues to present a barrier to recovery for individuals with mental illness. However, few studies have explored the stigma specific to bipolar disorder.
Her research shows that providing biological causal information about bipolar disorder increases some aspects of stigma and decreases others, suggesting that a medical model of bipolar disorder does not necessarily improve public attitudes. However, when information is provided to people that bipolar disorder can be treated, the public is much less stigmatizing.
The findings have important implications for stigma reduction and mental health education involving bipolar disorder. First, the results suggest the need for disorder-specific stigma reduction strategies, she writes, noting that in particular, bipolar disorder stigma seems to benefit from treatability information. However, in general, bipolar disorder is viewed with high prognostic pessimism.
“To combat this pessimism, future stigma reduction campaigns could highlight real people who have found effective treatments for bipolar disorder and who live successfully,” writes Cassidy. Second, the results of her study suggest the importance of emphasizing the continuity of bipolar disorder with normal experience — that people with bipolar disorder are not different from others, focusing on the psychosocial contributors to cause.
“Despite improvements in knowledge and understanding of mental health conditions in recent decades, stigmatizing attitudes toward mental illness still prevail among the general public. Therefore, it is vital to continue studying the most effective ways to combat stigma,” says Cassidy.
“This is great research to inform public health ‘marketing’ about mental illness,” says Professor of Psychology Kristi Erdal, Cassidy’s senior thesis adviser. “What researchers, physicians, and psychologists say to the public and to their patients about mental illness matters. The words they use and what they focus on makes a different in how patients and the public think about mental illness.”
Cassidy, of Bernardsville, New Jersey, currently is working as a paraprofessional in Colorado College’s Office of Institutional Research, and hopes to apply to graduate programs in clinical psychology.