Skip to main content

Developing Organizational Interventions to Address Stigma Among Mental Health Providers: A Pilot Study


This article outlines a pilot study of “It’s Just Us,” an organizational intervention designed to reduce stigma among mental health providers by increasing awareness of the stigma they hold toward both clients and other providers with lived experience of mental health challenges. The targeted organization was the Mental Health Service Line in a large, Midwestern VA health care system. About 30% of the clinicians in the service provided information about their levels of stigma toward clients and providers who manage mental health challenges at baseline, 1 year later, and 2 years later. Educational and contact interventions targeting stigma are detailed; the first year included education and short-term contact interventions, while the second year included continuous contact interventions. At the end of the first year, scores on a measure of stigma toward mental health providers with lived experience were significantly lower, while scores on (a) a self-report measure of stigma toward clients and (b) self-disclosure of lived experience to professional peers were unchanged. At the end of the second year, scores for stigma toward clients had improved, and providers in the sample were more likely to share their lived experience with professional peers. Further research is necessary to validate these findings. Data provides preliminary support for the use of the “It’s Just Us” curriculum as a means of reducing stigma among mental health providers. This model may also be useful in addressing stigma among other types of health care providers as well.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. Alexander, J. A., Lichtenstein, R., D’Aunno, T. A., McCormick, R., Muramatsu, N., & Ullmand, E. (1997). Determinants of mental health providers expectations of patients improvement. Psychiatric Services, 48(5), 671–677.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. American Psychological Association. (2002). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. American Psychologist, 57, 1060–1073.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Bamgbade, B. A., Barner, J. E., & Ford, K. H. (2016). Evaluating the impact of an anti-stigma intervention on pharmacy students’ willingness to counsel people with mental illness. Community Mental Health Journal, 53(5), 525–533.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Bender, C. E., Heilburn, M. E., Truong, H. B., & Bluth, E. I. (2015). The impaired radiologist. Journal of the American College of Radiology, 12, 302–306.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Beran, R. G. (2014). Mandatory notification of impaired doctors. Internal Medicine Journal, 44, 1161–1165.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. Bike, D. H., Norcross, J. C., & Schatz, D. M. (2009). Processes and outcomes of psychotherapists’ personal therapy: Replication and extension 20 years later. Psychotherapy Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 46(1), 19–31.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Boyd, J. E. (2013). Psychologists with lived experience of mental illness. In 16th VA Psychology Leadership Conference, San Antonio, TX, May 21–24, 2013.

  8. Boyd, J. E., Graunke, B., Frese, F. J., Jones, J. T., Adkins, J. W., & Bassman, R. (2016a). State psychology licensure questions about mental illness and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 86(6), 620–631.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. Boyd, J. E., Zeiss, A., Reddy, S., & Skinner, S. (2016b). Accomplishments of 77 VA mental health professionals with a lived experience of mental illness. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry., 86(6), 610–619.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Carr, E., Bhagwat, R., Miller, R., & Ponce, A. (2014). Training in mental health recovery and social justice in the public sector. The Counseling Psychologist, 42, 1108–1135.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Chung, K. F. (2005). Changing the attitudes of Hong Kong medical students toward people with mental illness. Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease, 193(11), 766–768.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Cohen, D., Winstanley, S. J., & Greene, G. (2016). Understanding doctors’ attitudes toward self-disclosure of mental ill health. Occupational Medicine, 66, 383–389.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. Corrigan, P. W., Mittal, D., Reaves, C. M., Haynes, T. F., Han, X., Morris, S., & Sullivan, G. (2014). Mental health stigma and primary health care decisions. Psychiatry Research, 218(1), 35–38.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  14. Corrigan, P. W., Morris, S. B., Michaels, P. J., Rafacz, J. D., & Rusch, N. (2012). Challenging the public stigma of mental illness: A meta-analysis of outcome studies. Psychiatric Services, 63(10), 963–973.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. Corrigan, P. W., & Penn, D. L. (1999). Lessons from social psychology on discrediting psychiatric stigma. American Psychologist, 54(9), 765–776.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. Harris, J. I., Leskela, J., & Hoffman-Konn, L. (2016). Provider lived experience and stigma. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 86(6), 604–609.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. Hugo, M. (2001). Mental health professionals’ attitudes towards people who have experienced a mental health disorder. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 8(5), 419–425.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. Jones, K. P., & King, E. B. (2014). Managing concealable stigmas at work: A review and multilevel model. Journal of Management, 40(5), 1466–1494.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Knaak, S., & Patten, S. (2016). A grounded theory model for reducing stigma in health professionals in Canada. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavia, 134, 53–62.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Lauber, C., Anthony, M., Ajdacic-Gross, V., & Rössler, W. (2004). What about psychiatrists’ attitude to mentally ill people? European Psychiatry, 19(7), 423–427.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. Nachshoni, T., Abromovitch, Y., Lerner, V., Assael-Amir, M., Kotler, M., & Strous, R. D. (2008). Psychologists’ and social workers’ self-descriptions using DSM-IV psychopathology. Psychological Reports, 103, 173–188.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. Nordt, C., Rossler, W., & Lauber, C. (2006). Attitudes of mental health professionals toward people with schizophrenia and major depression. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 32, 709–714

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  23. Peris, T. S., Teachman, B. A., & Nosek, B. A. (2008). Implicit and explicit stigma of mental illness: Links to clinical care. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 196(10), 752–760.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. Schulze, B. (2007). Stigma and mental health professionals: A review of the evidence on an intricate relationship. International Review of Psychiatry, 19(2), 137–155.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. Sercu, C., & Bracke, P. (2016). Stigma as a structural power in mental health care reform: An ethnographic study among mental health care professionals in Belgium. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 30(6), 710–716.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  26. Servais, L. M., & Saunders, S. M. (2007). Clinical psychologists’ perceptions of persons with mental illness. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 38(2), 214–219.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Stuber, J. P., Rocha, A., Christian, A., & Link, B. G. (2014). Conceptions of mental illness: Attitudes of mental health professionals and the general public. Psychiatric Services, 65(4), 490–497.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  28. Ungar, T., Knaak, S., & Szeto, A. C. H. (2015). Theoretical and practical considerations for combating mental illness stigma in health care. Community Mental Health Journal, 52, 262–271.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  29. Wahl, O., & Aroesty-Cohen, E. (2010). Attitudes of mental health professionals about mental illness: A review of the recent literature. Journal of Community Psychology, 38(1), 49–62.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Welder, L. E., & Salzer, M. S. (2016). Creating welcoming work environments within mental health agencies: Recommendations for supporting agency staff with mental health conditions. Philadelphia: Temple University Collaborative on Community Inclusion of Individuals with Psychiatric Disabilities.

    Google Scholar 

Download references


This material is based upon work supported in part by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Administration, Office of Research and Development. The contents of the publication/presentation do not represent the views of the Department of Veterans Affairs or the United States Government. The authors would like to acknowledge assistance from Dr. Lisa Hoffman-Konn in developing and implementing the “It’s Just Us” curriculum.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to J. Irene Harris.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

None of the authors have any conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This project was reviewed by our IRB and declared exempt from IRB oversight, as the data was collected for continuing education needs assessment. Labor unions representing the employees also reviewed and approved the project.

Informed Consent

Participation in baseline and endpoint surveys for this project were voluntary and anonymous. To protect anonymity, we used a passive consent system. Every survey had a cover letter explaining the purpose of the survey, the risks/benefits for participating, and noting that participation was completely voluntary and anonymous. This approach to consent was reviewed and approved by both the IRB and labor unions.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Harris, J.I., Leskela, J., Lakhan, S. et al. Developing Organizational Interventions to Address Stigma Among Mental Health Providers: A Pilot Study. Community Ment Health J 55, 924–931 (2019).

Download citation


  • Stigma
  • Mental health
  • Health care providers