Coming Out Proud: To erase the stigma of mental illness

The 7th International Together Against Stigma Conference in San Francisco this February provides a forum for people with lived experience, researchers, practitioners, advocates, members of the media and policymakers to discuss effective interventions to combat stigma and discrimination on an individual, community and societal level. On today’s blog, Dr. Patrick Corrigan, distinguished professor of psychology at the Illinois Institute of Technology, introduces Coming Out Proud, one of the many outstanding workshops happening at the upcoming conference.

People with lived experience are harmed by the public stigma of mental illness when others endorse stereotypes and discriminate against them.  Some people with lived experience also internalize these stereotypes ending up in self-stigma.  Strategic disclosure (or Coming Out) significantly challenges both.  Contact, where people tell stories of recovery, is the proven antidote to public stigma; to do this; people must disclose and tell their stories.  Self-stigma is diminished when people come out of the closet of shame that results from internalizing stigma.  Coming Out Proud (COP) is a program developed by people with lived experience to help individuals decide with dignity whether to disclose.  The program is run by two trainers with lived experience in three lessons.

  • Consider the pros and cons of coming out.
  • Learn strategies to come out relatively safely.
  • Develop one’s “coming out” story.

A recent randomized controlled trial in 13 sites across California as part of Each Mind Matters showed people completing COP significantly diminished self-stigma.  Women participating in the study showed reduced depression.

Part of the COP program is the mental health solidarity movement.  Some advocates might believe stigma is overcome by passing as normal.  This is a wrong message because it encourages people to be in the closet.  The alternative is solidarity, the expectation that others accept me for whom I am and stand with me.

Our logo has a double meaning.  It includes the assertive message of standing with someone.  It also has the proud message of “I am out with mental illness.”  Pat Corrigan and Jon Larson will be hosting a COP workshop at the upcoming Together Against Stigma conference in San Francisco, February 18 to 20.  For more information, go to COPProgram.org or contact Pat Corrigan.

Patrick Corrigan, PsyD is a distinguished Professor of Psychology at the Illinois Institute of Technology. His research examines psychiatric disability and the impact of stigma on recovery and rehabilitation. Currently, he is principal investigator of the National Consortium for Stigma and Empowerment (NCSE); funded by NIMH.