Relationship of Stigma to HIV Risk Among Women with Mental Illness

Pamela Y. Collins, Katherine S. Elkington, Hella von Unger, Annika Sweetland, Eric R. Wright, Patricia A. Zybert

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    25 Scopus citations


    Urban women with severe mental illness (SMI) are vulnerable to stigma and discrimination related to mental illness and other stigmatized labels. Stigma experiences may increase their risk for negative health outcomes, such as HIV infection. This study tests the relationship between perceived stigma and HIV risk behaviors among women with SMI. The authors interviewed 92 women attending community mental health programs using the Stigma of Psychiatric Illness and Sexuality Among Women Questionnaire. There were significant relationships between personal experiences of mental illness and substance use accompanying sexual intercourse; perceived ethnic stigma and having a riskier partner type; and experiences of discrimination and having a casual or sex-exchange partner. Higher scores on relationship stigma were associated with a greater number of sexual risk behaviors. The findings underscore the importance of exploring how stigma attached to mental illness intersects with other stigmatized labels to produce unique configurations of HIV risk. HIV risk reduction interventions and prevention research should integrate attention to stigmatized identities in the lives of women with SMI.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)498-506
    Number of pages9
    JournalAmerican Journal of Orthopsychiatry
    Issue number4
    StatePublished - Oct 2008


    • HIV sexual risk
    • severe mental illness
    • stigma
    • women

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Developmental and Educational Psychology
    • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
    • Psychology (miscellaneous)
    • Psychiatry and Mental health

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    Collins, P. Y., Elkington, K. S., von Unger, H., Sweetland, A., Wright, E. R., & Zybert, P. A. (2008). Relationship of Stigma to HIV Risk Among Women with Mental Illness. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 78(4), 498-506.