As part of our recurring SoTL posts, I was looking for an article about online teaching, and perhaps something to do with first time online instructors. I will be teaching my very first online class this summer. In addition to my teaching responsibilities this semester I am also taking a class about how to be an effective and impactful instructor in an online course. This course has been extremely helpful in that I am encouraged to have my entire summer class planned and implemented by May 1st. My online class happens to be Introductory Psychology so we will be touching on a variety of topics including mental health. When I came across the article “Reducing Mental Illness Stigma in The Classroom: An Expanded Methodology” by Carla G. Strassle my interest piqued immediately. In my in-person Intro class we reserve two full days for conversation regarding mental health, stigma, and therapy. At my institution, Intro Psychology is part of the Social World track of courses where students engage in discussions centered around the socially constructed contexts we exist in at all time. A conversation about mental health and stigma that involves all students in class is an incredibly important learning opportunity on multiple fronts – both for the topic itself AND for the chance to have a discussion about a topic not all people feel free to discuss at all times. I was excited to find this article in hopes of it helping me facilitate a productive online conversation centered on mental health and stigma for all students in my class.
Strassle begins the article by discussion how the stigma of mental illness is still prevalent and has many negative consequences, such as social distancing and attempts to hide individuals with mental illness from society. As we all know, many people are impacted by mental health issues, so that just about ensures that someone in each one of my Intro classes has, is, or will be dealing with mental health issues. The next section of the article details how the most effective stigma reduction techniques differ between the adult and adolescent population. Whereas adults benefit most from contact, which involves bringing people with and without mental illness diagnoses together to highlight commonalities and diminish stereotypes, adolescents benefit most from general stigma education and dispelling myths about mental illness. Strassle then states that these contrasting findings across age-groups begs the question – what type of stigma reduction technique is most beneficial for college-aged students (late teens through early 20s)? The purpose of the current research was to examine stigma reduction techniques that can be applied in a college setting and for the results to guide instructors when they are implementing stigma reduction programs in their classroom.
Strassle collected data from seven sections of abnormal psychology at a university in the Midwest. Two sections with no stigma reduction techniques served as the control conditions, and five sections of the class that did receive some form of stigma reduction lesson (either education, education+protest, education+contact, and education+protest+contact) were the experimental conditions. Students were administered the Beliefs Toward Mental Illness (BMI) Scale (Hirai & Clum, 2000) at the start of the semester, were exposed to the mental illness stigma reduction technique for their section during the semester, and were given the BMI Scale after receiving the stigma reduction technique. Changes in overall BMI Scale scores, as well as individual items on the scale, were analyzed.
It was hypothesized that any application of education, protest, contact, or a combination would reduce stigma to a greater extent than the control conditions that only asked students to read about stigma reduction for one page in their textbook. The results of Strassle’s quasi-experiment support this hypothesis as all experimental conditions demonstrated significant change in stigma beliefs, while the control condition revealed no change (significant change was also found for all the BMI subscales). These findings are in line with the literature on the utility of stigma reduction in the college classroom setting.
However, the current investigation was unable to identify which stigma reduction technique should be used. With that being said, I was able to learn much more about the stigma reduction techniques of contact and protest. I am thinking that I can ask my students to create a 60 second public service announcement about mental health and stigma as an assignment for our online class this summer. I am also debating coming up with a way to keep everything anonymous, but to have my students engage in a conversation with someone where one person has a mental health diagnosis and the other does not. The assignment would center on highlighting commonalities and a discussion of how stereotypes might have changed. This potential assignment is still in the works, so if anyone else has implemented a similar assignment I would love to hear from you!
I found this article most helpful for the same reasons that Strassle details in the Discussion section: 1. Due to the content coverage of mental illness in both introductory and abnormal psychology courses and 2. The frequency with which they are offered within psychology curricula, engaging in stigma reduction within these courses presents unique, organic opportunities to reduce mental illness stigma. In addition to developing a few ideas about how I can implement these stigma reduction techniques in my online class via assignments, my main takeaway from the article is that the education about mental illness must be stigma-specific, in that general education about mental illness (touching on symptoms, causes, treatments) that does not specifically focus on disconfirming stereotypes typically has no impact on stigma attitudes. By taking these findings and this advice to heart, I can improve the unit of my course on mental health and stigma, while working to ensure my students are conscientious citizens capable of having discussion about mental health.
written by Brian Day