Measuring health-related stigma--a literature review.

Peer-reviewed article
(2006 Aug) Psychol Health Med, 11 307-34


Van Brakel WH


Stigma related to chronic health conditions such as HIV/AIDS, leprosy, tuberculosis, mental illness and epilepsy is a global phenomenon with a severe impact on individuals and their families, and on the effectiveness of public health programmes. To compare stigma measurement in different disciplines, a literature review was conducted. References were obtained through a search of literature databases and through examining relevant bibliographies. Sixty-three papers were selected that addressed the issue of measurement of stigma or related constructs and that contained a sample of the instrument or items used. Five unpublished studies were also included in the review. The aspects of health-related stigma used for assessment can be grouped in five categories. First, the experience of actual discrimination and/or participation restrictions on the part of the person affected; second, attitudes towards the people affected; third, perceived or felt stigma; fourth, self or internalized stigma; and fifth, discriminatory and stigmatizing practices in (health) services, legislation, media and educational materials. Within each of these areas, different research methods have been used, including questionnaires, qualitative methods, indicators and scales. The characteristics of the instruments considered most promising are described and compared. The purpose of stigma assessment is to increase our understanding of stigma and its determinants and dynamics, to determine its extent or severity in a given setting or target group and to monitor changes in stigma over time. The conclusions from this review are that (a) the consequences of stigma are remarkably similar in different health conditions, cultures and public health programmes; (b) many instruments have been developed to assess the intensity and qualities of stigma, but often these have been condition-specific; and (c) development of generic instruments to assess health-related stigma may be possible. To achieve this aim, existing instruments should be further validated, developed or adapted for generic use, where possible.