The Differential Moderating Roles of Self-Compassion and Mindfulness in Self-Stigma and Well-Being Among People Living with Mental Illness or HIV (Yang et al. 2016)
People living with mental and chronic illnesses often face forms of discrimination related to their conditions. Self-stigma is a phenomenon when negative stereotypes related to stigmatized identities are self-reinforced by those individuals with illnesses, which can often lead to feelings of shame, low self-esteem, and inadequacy. Self-stigmas cause undue stress on individuals and can also lead to decreased life satisfaction and well-being.
Current models of self-stigma propose that the phenomenon is comprised of two components, the content (negative thoughts) and the process (frequency and repetition of these thoughts). Mindfulness and self-compassion have been theorized to disrupt the maladaptive repetition of negative thoughts and emotions for patients with chronic or mental illnesses, who are particularly susceptible to psychosocial distress.
In this study, Yang and her team explored the potential moderating role of self-compassion and mindfulness to self-stigmas and well-being in two clinical samples from in Hong Kong, China. The first clinical sample comprised of 169 patients currently living with mental health disorders, ranging from schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder, in which 92% of the participants were actively using psychotropic medications as treatment. The second sample consists of 291 patients living with HIV; 87% of the participants were receiving anti-retroviral therapy at the time of the study.
All participants were issued a series of questionnaires comprised of five scales that assessed for mindfulness (FFMQ), self-compassion (SCS-SF), the content of self-stigmas (SSS- cognitive subscale), the frequency and repetition of self-stigmas (STARS), and life satisfaction (SLS).
Interestingly, the results indicated that mindfulness and self-compassion were positively associated with life satisfaction. In other words, patients who viewed themselves as more mindful and self-compassionate also tended to report a higher sense of life satisfaction. Conversely, those who scored higher on self-stigmatizing content and frequency of these negative thoughts were more likely to score lower on life-satisfaction, indicating a negative correlation.
“Interestingly, the results indicated that mindfulness and self-compassion were positively associated with life satisfaction.”
Yang and her team confirmed their hypothesis that the moderating effects of mindfulness and self-compassion were group specific. For the clinical sample with mental health issues, mindfulness in particular buffered against the negative association between the frequency of self-stigmas and well-being. However, for the sample of participants with HIV, results indicated that the content of their self-stigma was significantly related to subjective well-being and that self-compassion specifically moderated this relationship.
These results, although only correlational, provide an intriguing line of investigation that invites a closer examination of the group-specific moderating effects of mindfulness and self-compassion on self-stigma. Furthermore, the study authors suggest an experimental design to establish the causal relationship between mindfulness, self-compassion, and self-stigma. With the ever-expanding application of mindfulness-based interventions for various clinical populations, there seems to be ripe opportunity for the development of interventions or the integration of components that specifically target self-stigma in clinical population to increase well-being and life satisfaction.