The stigma of having a parent with mental illness: Genetic attributions and associative stigma


Robert MacKay Lynd-Stevenson, PhD, Flinders University, School of Psychology, GPO Box 2100, Adelaide, SA 5001 Australia. Email:


Children often report associative stigma because they are ‘contaminated’ by association with a parent who has a mental illness. An exploratory study was conducted to investigate the role of genetic attributions in the aetiology of associative stigma. The first hypothesis was that genetic attributions would predict associative stigma over and above the contribution of biochemical and stressful-event attributions, while the second hypothesis was that the relationship between genetic attributions and associative stigma would be mediated by the perceived likelihood that children would develop the same disorder as their parents. Two-hundred-and-two individuals were asked to read a hypothetical scenario describing a teenage girl whose mother had been diagnosed with either schizophrenia or depression. Both hypotheses were supported. The findings of the study have implications for a number of professions working in the community such as teachers and psychologists. Additional avenues for future research are also explored.