Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr Susan Rodger


This dissertation investigates the stigma of mental illness in schools. In today’s Canadian classrooms, at least one in five students is experiencing a mental disorder, which without treatment or support can severely impede students’ academic performance and can reinforce stereotypical beliefs about: (a) these students’ ability to be successful in the classroom, and (b) their teachers’ abilities to meet their needs. While mental health awareness about these issues is steadily increasing, stigmatizing attitudes – which present a major barrier to help-seeking – are not decreasing at a comparable rate. Therefore, I used mixed methods to explore the experience of mental illness stigma at school from two perspectives: (1) youth living with mental illness, and (2) teacher candidates at a Faculty of Education. In particular, I investigated whether personal contact with youth self-identifying as having a mental illness influenced teacher candidates’ perceptions of students with mental illness. I asked: What is the impact on the stigma of mental illness when youth share their stories with teacher candidates? Using two quantitative measures of stigma – the Attribution Questionnaire-9 and the Opening Minds Scale – I found that youth stories about their experience with mental illness at school were not significantly associated with a decrease in stigma among teacher candidates. Using semi-structured interviews and short-answer questions, the majority of teacher candidates who heard youth’s stories at a mental health literacy professional development day specifically named these stories as having the “biggest impact” on them. During the design studio and focus groups, youth revealed that reflecting on the specific messages they wanted to send to teacher candidates allowed youth to discover new insights about what they had learned and how they had grown from their experiences living with mental illness at school. This study offers educators firsthand perspectives from youth and teacher candidates about how they and other mental health stakeholders can work together to challenge the stigma of mental illness in educational contexts.