Dr. Guangyu Zhou’s lab from School of Psychological and Cognitive Sciences at Peking University published the paper “Stigma and emotional distress in Chinese mental health professionals: Moderating role of cognitive fusion” on Stigma and Health. The study delved into the often-overlooked challenges faced by mental health professionals (MHPs), shedding light on the impact of occupational stigma on their emotional well-being. This study aimed to uncover the hidden challenges that MHPs endure and identify potential strategies to alleviate their emotional distress. The study sought to understand the intricate relationship between occupational stigma, affiliate stigma, and emotional distress among MHPs in China.

Mental health professionals play a crucial role in supporting individuals battling mental health issues. However, their profession itself is not immune to societal biases and stigmatization. Despite the pivotal role they play, MHPs often face the burden of stigma, both externally from the public and internally as they internalize the negative perceptions attached to their profession.

The researchers found that occupational stigma was positively linked to depressive symptoms, anxiety, and stress in these professionals. Additionally, they discovered that affiliate stigma served as a mediating factor, explaining the relationship between occupational stigma and psychological distress. Cognitive fusion, or the degree to which MHPs internalized these stigmatizing beliefs, was found to moderate the mediation process. Those who possessed higher levels of cognitive defusion, a skill to distance oneself from such negative thoughts, showed resilience against the negative effects of occupational stigma.

The study calls for immediate attention to address the occupational stigma experienced by MHPs. The study underscores the importance of creating a supportive environment that recognizes and respects the invaluable contributions of mental health professionals. Furthermore, initiatives aimed at enhancing mental health literacy among the public are vital to dismantling the stereotypes that perpetuate occupational stigma. The researchers recommend the incorporation of mindfulness-based and third-wave interventions, such as acceptance and commitment therapy, to empower MHPs with coping mechanisms to manage the impact of stigma.

In a world where mental health awareness is growing, it is crucial to extend this awareness to the individuals who provide care to those in need. This study highlights the need for collaboration among healthcare systems, policy makers, and society to create a stigma-free environment for mental health professionals. Doing so can pave the way for improved mental health outcomes, enhanced patient care, and greater well-being for those who dedicate their lives to the mental health profession.

This study was supported by the National Social Science Foundation (Grant 21BSH158) to Guangyu Zhou and the National Clinical Research Center for Mental Disorders (Peking University Sixth Hospital) under Grant NCRC2021M10 to Guangyu Zhou.

Liu, X., Lao, C. K., Shi, W., & Zhou, G. (in press). Stigma and emotional distress in Chinese mental health professionals: Moderating role of cognitive fusion. Stigma and Health. https://doi.org/10.1037/sah0000479