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Hall receives NIH award to research internalized stigma among LGBTQ community members

William J. Hall, Ph.D., has been awarded a $422,799 award for the research project “Implicit Internalized Stigma: Measuring and Examining a Determinant of Mental Health Disparities for Sexual Minorities.”
Hall is an assistant professor with the School of Social Work (SSW) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The research project is supported by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities of the National Institutes of Health under Award #R21MD-12687. Hall will lead activities as principal investigator through March 2020.
“I’m very excited about this project and I’m feeling really grateful to be at a place where I can do this kind of research,” Hall said.
He added that the proposal was a collaborative effort from several faculty members. Mimi Chapman and Din Chen from SSW and Keith Payne from UNC’s psychology department will serve as co-investigators for the project. Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development Sheryl Zimmerman and other colleagues from SSW’s Office of Strategic Research Priorities consulted with Hall on the proposal submission.
Hall’s research will focus on LGBTQ community members who experience internalized stigma — negative self-concepts or attitudes that can be a reflection of beliefs and stereotypes that others have assigned to them. Internalized stigma is a key determinant of mental health disparities, and national data indicate that 37 percent of sexual minority adults have experienced a mental illness, which is twice the rate among heterosexual adults. LGBTQ adults and teens are at higher risk for depression, thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts.
Although some researchers have investigated the issue of internalized stigma in LGBTQ individuals from an explicit perspective (in which the individual is aware of those self-concepts), few have addressed internalized stigma from an implicit perspective (in which the individual is unaware of those self-concepts and they are activated automatically), placing Hall at the forefront of this research focus.
“A lot of people aren’t consciously aware that they’ve internalized negative concepts,” Hall said. “They’re not aware of how it affects their mental health and their relationships with other people.”
The project will develop and evaluate an assessment tool that mental health care providers and researchers can use to help recognize internalized stigma in their clients and identify appropriate treatment plans.
“This will be a new way to see what’s going on in someone’s subconscious — their attitudes, feelings and beliefs,” Hall said.
Eventually, the assessment tool will be available online for social workers or other clinicians working with LGBTQ clients. Hall also hopes that others will use the assessment tool: “Anyone could take it, look at the results and see the areas they would want to work on in therapy.”
In addition to developing the assessment tool, Hall and his team will examine the relationships between internalized stigma and symptoms of depression and anxiety. The project will include a pilot test with a sample of 100 LGBTQ adults, followed by online data collection from 440 LGBTQ adults.