Patient and Health Care Professional Perspectives on Stigma in Integrated Behavioral Health: Barriers and Recommendations.



Stigma related to mental health is well documented and a major barrier to using mental and physical health care. Integrated behavioral health (IBH) in primary care, in which behavioral/mental health care services are located within a primary care setting, may reduce the experience of stigma. The purpose of this study was to assess the opinions of patients and health care professionals about mental illness stigma as a barrier to engagement with IBH and to gain insight into strategies to reduce stigma, encourage discussion of mental health, and increase uptake of IBH care.


We conducted semistructured interviews with 16 patients referred to IBH in a prior year and 15 health care professionals (12 primary care physicians and 3 psychologists). Interviews were transcribed and inductively coded separately by 2 coders for common themes and subthemes under the topic headings of barriers, facilitators, and recommendations.


We identified 10 converging themes from interviews with patients and the health care professionals, representing important complementary perspectives, with respect to barriers, facilitators, and recommendations. Barriers included professionals, families, and the public as sources of stigma, as well as self-stigma or avoidance, or internalizing negative stereotypes. Facilitators and recommendations included normalizing discussion of mental health and mental health care-seeking action, using patient-centered and empathetic communication strategies, sharing by health care professionals of their own experiences, and tailoring the discussion of mental health to patients' preferred understanding.


Health care professionals can help reduce perceptions of stigma by having conversations with patients that normalize mental health discussion, use patient-centered communication, promote professional self-disclosure, and are tailored to patients' preferred understanding.





Published Version (Please cite this version)


Publication Info

Phelan, Sean M, Manisha Salinas, Tyson Pankey, Gabrielle Cummings, Jay-Sheree P Allen, Anne Waniger, Nathaniel E Miller, Jocelyn Lebow, et al. (2023). Patient and Health Care Professional Perspectives on Stigma in Integrated Behavioral Health: Barriers and Recommendations. Annals of family medicine, 21(Suppl 2). pp. S56–S60. 10.1370/afm.2924 Retrieved from

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Tyson L Pankey

Assistant Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

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