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PLoS One. 2017 May 22;12(5):e0177388. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0177388. eCollection 2017.

Stigma of addiction and mental illness in healthcare: The case of patients' experiences in dental settings.

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Faculty of Dentistry, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America.



To explore the ways in which stigma is experienced in healthcare and dental settings by patients with a history of addiction and mental illness.


Audio-recorded, semi-structured interviews with a purposefully selected convenience sample of residents from two community treatment centres in Vancouver, Canada were conducted. The interview guide contained questions about experiences while seeking health and dental care and was based on an existing framework of labeling, stereotyping, exclusion, discrimination, and power imbalance. Interviews were transcribed verbatim for coding and thematic analysis.


Twenty-five participants between 23 and 67 years of age were interviewed; 17 were males. Most had a self-reported history of depression combined with use of alcohol and crack-cocaine; most of them only sought dental care for emergency purposes. Textual analysis of more than 300 pages of transcribed interviews revealed that participants perceived stigma when they were negatively stereotyped as 'unworthy', labeled as 'different', excluded from the decision-making process, discriminated against, 'treated unfairly', and felt powerless when interacting in the heath and dental care systems. Conversely, positive experiences were characterized by empathy, reassurance and good communication, which were empowering for patients.


When associated with stigma, mental illness and addictions have negative implications for accessing health and dental care. From our participants' perspectives, it seems that the lack of understanding about their life conditions by the healthcare professionals was the origin of stigma. We suggest that an increased social awareness of these health issues be enhanced among current and future health and dental care professionals to help improve care experiences for this marginalized population.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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