Data Type: Journal Article

Understanding labeling effects in the area of mental disorders: An assessment of the effects of expectations of rejection

Link, B.G. (1987). Understanding labeling effects in the area of mental disorders: An assessment of the effects of expectations of rejection. American Sociological Review, 52(1), 96-112.

This article examines the effects of formal labeling, specifically on psychiatric patients and their expectations of acts discrimination from others. The author was interested in seeing whether there are negative ramifications to such labels. In order to do so, he examined possible negative psychological effects (specifically “demoralization” (i.e. self-devaluation and discrimination) and negative social effects (specifically loss of income and unemployment).

The author tested his hypothesis using community members (who were not being treated) and psychiatric patients from New York. These members were divided into five study groups, who differed in terms of level of psychiatric condition, treatment, and therefore their experiences with labeling. Each of the study groups was given a survey, which solicited opinions on the devaluation/stigma of mental patients. Responses were then regressed on “demoralization,” “loss of income,” and “unemployment measures,” and significant associations were found only for respondents who had experienced labeling. Results were checked using a chi-square analysis. Based on these results and further discussion, Link suggests three possible consequences of labeling: that psychiatric treatment activates beliefs about mental illness, that “abnormal” behavior (and not merely the labeling it is associated with) might be a cause of rejection, and that labeling can lead to “secondary deviance” in social behaviors.

This article focuses on patients of psychiatry rather than clients of psychotherapy—suggesting that they do experience sociological phenomena such as labeling effects. However it may also have implications for the sociology of psychology, because the terms that Link uses to address labeling in his research are broad in reach. While conducting his study, he found that the term “mental patient” was enough to evoke a labeling reaction even from psychiatric patients specifically. This may suggest that labeling effects may be broader reaching, and that the act of labeling can have meaning to a broader group of people with mental disorders, such as those undergoing psychotherapy.

Categories: Social Construction, Sociology of Mental Health and Illness, Symbolic Interaction
Publication Date: 1987