Communications to children about mental illness and their role in stigma development: an integrative review

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Mueller, J. ; Callanan, M. ; Greenwood, K.

Background\ud Limited literature on the stigma of mental illness has examined the socio-cultural processes involved in the development of stigma around mental health in children, which emerges in middle childhood (7-11 years). Greater understanding might inform preventative interventions. \ud Aims\ud This review aims to integrate disparate theoretical and empirical research to provide an overview of social communications to children aged 7-11 years about mental illness across four key socio-cultural contexts (the media, school, peers, parents) of relevance to children’s development, and to consider their role in the development of stigmatized views.\ud Method\ud Systematic literature searches were conducted within electronic databases and abstracts were scanned to identify relevant studies. Fifteen papers were selected for the review.\ud Results\ud The review found few studies have directly examined communications about mental illness to children. Available evidence suggests messages across children’s socio-cultural contexts are characterized by silence and stigma, which may shape children’s developing views. Specific theoretical frameworks are lacking; possible mechanisms of transmission are discussed.\ud Conclusions\ud This review suggests overcoming stigma will require efforts targeting young children, explicitly tackling mental illness, and spanning multiple social spheres: further research is warranted.
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