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J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2010 Feb;49(2):92-103; quiz 198.

The stigma of childhood mental disorders: a conceptual framework.

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  • 1Institute for Global Health, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN 37203-1738, USA.



To describe the state of the literature on stigma associated with children's mental disorders and highlight gaps in empirical work.


We reviewed child mental illness stigma articles in (English only) peer-reviewed journals available through Medline and PsychInfo. We augmented these with adult-oriented stigma articles that focus on theory and measurement. A total of 145 articles in PsychInfo and 77 articles in MEDLINE met search criteria. The review process involved identifying and appraising literature convergence on the definition of critical dimensions of stigma, antecedents, and outcomes reported in empirical studies.


We found concurrence on three dimensions of stigma (negative stereotypes, devaluation, and discrimination), two contexts of stigma (self, general public), and two targets of stigma (self/individual, family). Theory and empirics on institutional and self-stigma in child populations were sparse. Literature reports few theoretic frameworks and conceptualizations of child mental illness stigma. One model of help seeking (the FINIS) explicitly acknowledges the role of stigma in children's access and use of mental health services.


Compared with adults, children are subject to unique stigmatizing contexts that have not been adequately studied. The field needs conceptual frameworks that get closer to stigma experiences that are causally linked to how parents/caregivers cope with children's emotional and behavioral problems, such as seeking professional help. To further research in child mental illness, we suggest an approach to adapting current theoretical frameworks and operationalizing stigma, highlighting three dimensions of stigma, three contexts of stigma (including institutions), and three targets of stigma (self/child, family, and services).

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