Media language preferences and mental illness stigma among Latinx adolescents

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Media—a powerful influence on mental illness stigma—varies by language and culture. Nevertheless, recent meta-analyses have demonstrated scant attention to Spanish language media as well as historically low Latinx participation in mental illness anti-stigma intervention. To better inform how to improve equity in mental health service utilization, this study assessed how language preferences in mass media influence stigma among Latinx adolescents, compared to family language and social preferences.

Sixth-graders self-identifying as Latinx self-completed assessments of mental illness knowledge/positive attitudes and desired separation from peers and adolescent vignette characters experiencing mental illness (N = 179; Texas, U.S., 2011–2012). Participants also responded to measures of language preferences (any Spanish versus only English) for consuming media (film/television, music/radio) and speaking with family (parents/grandparents), and social preferences for parties or social gatherings (Latinx versus Anglo persons). Linear regression models adjusting for student and household factors examined the associations between media and family language and social preferences on mental illness stigma.

Latinx adolescents preferring any Spanish versus English-only media reported less mental illness knowledge/positive attitudes and greater social separation from peers and vignette characters with a mental illness, net of all covariates. Family language and social preferences were not associated with any mental illness stigma outcomes.

Spanish media preference is associated with greater stigma suggesting more stigmatization may exist in Spanish- versus English-media. Ensuring anti-stigma messaging in Spanish media may reduce disparities in mental illness stigma among Latinx adolescents. These findings have implications for populations with other non-English media preferences.