Stigma across HIV/AIDS, mental illness, and physical disability can be co-occurring and may interact with other forms of stigma related to social identities like race, gender, and sexuality. Stigma is especially problematic for people living with these conditions because it can create barriers to accessing necessary social and structural supports, which can intensify their experiences with stigma. This review aims to contribute to the knowledge on stigma by advancing a cross-analysis of HIV/AIDS, mental illness, and physical disability stigma, and exploring whether and how intersectionality frameworks have been used in the systematic reviews of stigma.
A search of the literature was conducted to identify systematic reviews which investigated stigma for HIV/AIDS, mental illness and/or physical disability. The electronic databases MEDLINE, CINAHL, EMBASE, COCHRANE, and PsycINFO were searched for reviews published between 2005 and 2017. Data were extracted from eligible reviews on: type of systematic review and number of primary studies included in the review, study design study population(s), type(s) of stigma addressed, and destigmatizing interventions used. A keyword search was also done using the terms "intersectionality", "intersectional", and "intersection"; related definitions and descriptions were extracted. Matrices were used to compare the characteristics of reviews and their application of intersectional approaches across the three health conditions.
Ninety-eight reviews met the inclusion criteria. The majority (99%) of reviews examined only one of the health conditions. Just three reviews focused on physical disability. Most reviews (94%) reported a predominance of behavioural rather than structural interventions targeting stigma in the primary studies. Only 17% of reviews used the concept and/or approach of intersectionality; all but one of these reviews examined HIV/AIDS.
The lack of systematic reviews comparing stigma across mental illness, HIV/AIDS, and physical disability indicates the need for more cross-comparative analyses among these conditions. The integration of intersectional approaches would deepen interrogations of co-occurring social identities and stigma.