Abolishing shame

An examination into the impact of social marketing on the stigma attached to mental health

About the author

Catherine Maguire is completing a BSc in Communication, Advertising and Marketing at Ulster University. Here, she summarises her dissertation study.

Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash
Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

My research study aimed to examine the impact of social marketing on the stigma attached to mental health and the effect it has on sufferers.

It is reported that one in seven people around the world will suffer from mental illnesses in their lifetime, however two-thirds of these sufferers will not seek treatment due to a fear of being stigmatised, which is defined as “the socio-cultural process where individuals are devalued”.

A large amount of literature highlights the critical importance of increasing the awareness of mental health and decreasing the stigma attached in a way to protect sufferers of mental illnesses.

Further literature states how social marketing is the most effective way in influencing behavioural change and attitudes within the public. As a result, social marketing around the topic has become more frequently used over the past decade.

Primary research was carried out to investigate how effective these social marketing campaigns have been in educating and influencing the publics behaviour around mental health, the stigma and how it effects sufferers. The use of a questionnaire allowed the researcher to gather the consensus from a large demographic, with a total of 128 respondents completing the survey and voicing their views around social marketing, mental health and the effects of the mental health stigma. The sequential execution of a focus group allowed the preceding literature and quantitative findings to be further examined through in-depth discussions around the topics to fully address the research aims and objectives.

The first objective has provided an insight into current public understanding of mental health, its stigma and how it affects sufferers. Primary and secondary research proved that awareness has increased over the past few years. This has led people to share more online and understand the importance of their mind and attitudes. It has also shown that they are aware of stigma attached currently to mental health illnesses and the consequences it may have on sufferers.

The second and third objective concluded that Social Marketing is very effective in raising awareness and changing public attitudes around topics.

Social marketing around the topic of mental health has shown to be effective in creating public awareness and behavioural change towards mental health and mental health sufferers and has therefore contributed to the decrease of the stigma.

However, research showed that although sufferers themselves may have become more aware and knowledgeable about their illness, and gained some confidence in seeking professional help, there is still very much a stigma present in current society which results in some sufferers being fearful in speaking up due to the fear of being stigmatised.

The final objective provided an in-depth insight into the desire for the increase of online services to support mental health. As the shame and fear attached to using traditional methods of help and support still exists in current society, the use of the internet has become the most commonly used method of health advice.

Therefore, online mental health services should be increased to allow sufferers to easily access information and advice anonymously and conveniently without feeling fear, shame or the risk of being stigmatised.

Each objective has been successfully achieved and enabled the research question to be answered.

To conclude, the study established that social marketing around mental health and its stigma has resulted in an increase of awareness by the public and contributed to a decrease of the stigma experienced by sufferers. However, there is still evidence of sufferers feeling shame and the fear of stigmatisation continues to stop people from speaking up and seeking help. The study has added value to this area of research in exploring the presence of online mental health services and how they can be effective in allowing sufferers to speak up and receive help for their illness, without the fear of being stigmatised due to the anonymity it offers them. However, further research would be required to explore this more thoroughly.