Mental Illness Labeling in Justice-Involved People

Elena Therese Vaudreuil, University of Texas at El Paso


While it cannot be denied that there is a strong correlational relationship between justice-involvement and mental illness, research has demonstrated that severe mental illness is rarely the direct cause of criminal activity. However, stigmatizing attitudes towards people with mental illness are often rooted in incorrect generalizations regarding the link between mental illness and unpredictable, dangerous behavior, which can be magnified by labels (e.g., “schizophrenic” or “criminal”). This reduction of a person to a label results in a number of negative outcomes, ranging from the prejudice and inequitable treatment one may experience from groups such as justice workers, police, and employers or landlords, to internalized stigma against oneself. A total of 242 participants recruited from Amazon’s CloudResearch platform were assigned to one of three information conditions (label of a disorder, symptom description and a combination) and shown a series of four vignettes reflecting Major Depressive Disorder, Bipolar 1 Disorder, Schizophrenia and a control condition of a troubled person. Stigma was measured using the Social Distance Scale, the Perceived Dangerousness of Mental Patients Scale and a created measure of willingness to mandate treatment. Additionally, we added covariates to the model such as the level of contact participants have had with both people with severe mental illness or justice-involvement, the rating of those contacts and knowledge of mental illness. Findings indicate a difference in stigmatizing attitudes by disorder, with interaction effects of the type of information presented. Having positive prior contact with people in both groups tended to mitigate stigma ratings, as did a greater knowledge of mental illness.

Subject Area

Psychology|Law|Clinical psychology|Mental health

Recommended Citation

Vaudreuil, Elena Therese, "Mental Illness Labeling in Justice-Involved People" (2022). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI30241318.