The Real-world impact of research
The relationship between the Care to Share Report and the real-world actions that we took to address the issues identified is a good example of how research informs real-world practice. Not only an academic exercise of intellectual interest, but research also works to examine issues that directly impact the effectiveness of interventions while seeking to understand root causes. The real-world practice may then be adjusted to address these underlying causes.
To address stigma we use advocacy, public and individual education, and work to refute misbeliefs with evidence including anecdotal evidence and hard data.
In working with people who have lived experience of stigma, a sophisticated understanding of their experience allows us to better support the person.
As a result, we can put in place interventions and strategies that assist the person in negotiating a social system that views a person’s worth based on negative views of behaviours that they may have engaged in.
Familiarity with research in the field, together with the ability to conduct self-directed research in areas that are useful to your work, can assist us in becoming better practitioners.
Indeed a growing number of academics view themselves as ‘pracademics’. They conduct research with the explicit goal of informing and improving practice in order to make a positive difference for others.
Three areas of research on stigma
- Formative research - to assist in developing interventions and tailoring them for target audiences.This includes participatory approaches that engage key stakeholders enabling those who experience stigma to inform the research providing input on the often subtle and dynamic aspects of stigma and discrimination that may be missed by other methods. This approach is useful in understanding the perspective of specific audiences and helps to identify the approaches that would best reach them.
- Intervention research - to assess implementation and outcomes of the specific interventions. This evaluates if the interventions are working as intended and producing the desired effects.
- Monitoring trends - over time in attitudes, beliefs, knowledge, and behaviours toward people with behavioural disorders at structural, public, and individual levels. Monitoring trends provides feedback on successful interventions and can identify the need for course correction or new interventions.
It can be difficult to navigate the complex world of research on stigma. A good starting point is the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) seminar, which provides a detailed overview of health stigma and discrimination. It advocates a cross-cutting research approach. The seminar is well worth viewing in its entirety.
Conducting self-directed research on stigma
To conduct your own self-directed research on stigma here are the steps you can take:
- Have a question or topic in mind. Think about what you would like to know more about.
- START (don’t end) with Wikipedia. While Wikipedia is sometimes seen as a lazy way to do self-directed research it is an excellent place to begin.
- List the keywords related to your topic of interest
- Remember that your aim is to get an overview of the topic.
- Note the sources cited at the bottom of the Wikipedia entry for follow up.
- Once you’ve found a good journal article/paper/book on the topic, review the bibliography for more focussed information.
- Focus on one or two sources that are specifically about the topic.
- Deal with one piece at a time. For example, you might want to learn more about the stigma women face in accessing treatment. Focus on the topic of women rather than subsets such as women of colour.
- As you learn more about the topic you can narrow down to subsets of the subject in question.
A starting point for your own stigma research
As an illustration of starting with an original resource and following cited research, here is a presentation by Dr. Harry Sumnall, Professor of Substance Use at the Public Health Institute at Liverpool John Moores University. The presentation has a number of references that you may follow according to your area of interest
Here are some examples based on key words with results:
- Families and stigma
- Stigma and stories of recovery
- Digital storytelling
- Activism and advocacy
This should give you a range of tools to begin your own research on understanding stigma. To conclude, here is an insightful talk about imagining the impact of treatment without stigma