Perceptions of Stigma in Abnormal Psychology Lesson Plan

Learning Objectives:
Students will be able to:

  1. Exercise self-reflection about what they believe mental illness looks like
  2. Identify issues of stigma that may affect individuals with mental illness


Lesson Overview:

This lesson is meant to be conducted at the beginning of the semester and seeks to allow students to view life through the lens of a person with a mental illness. Students will be asked to imagine they have been diagnoses with a particular mental illness and reflect on (1) what the symptoms may look like, (2) how might this diagnosis affect your life, and (3) how might people react to you differently?  This activity allows students to step in the shoes of the people they are studying and to help the perceive the world through their eyes.  To do this, students will work in small groups and then role play an individual with the mental illness they were assigned. The goal of this activity is to provide students with an experience-based lesson rather than a removed case study or presentation.

This lesson plan is not designed to assess student’s accurate identification of symptoms as they are not expected to know diagnostic criteria at the beginning of the class. Rather, it is designed to assess student’s perceptions of the mental illness and to address issues of stigma and negative perceptions as they arise.

This lesson plan can be conducted again at the end of the semester to gage student’s development and change in perspectives.


Lesson Plan (approx. 75 minutes):

  1. Before beginning the activity, the class will create rules for appropriate classroom behavior. For example, the “oops/ouch” rule can be used.  If students say something inappropriate or potentially harmful, they can say “oops” and rephrase their statement. Alternatively, if a student finds something someone says harmful, they can say “ouch,” in which case the student will be asked to rephrase their statement and allow the harmed student to voice their opinion, which can further the discussion of stigma in mental illness.
  2. The lesson plan Imagine you have been diagnosed with…  worksheet will be handed out.
  3. The instructor will count students off into groups of 3-4 to encourage working with a variety of other people. They will be asked to imagine they have been diagnosed with either schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (to be assigned one per group).  More diagnoses can be added depending on the class size.
  4. Student’s will first be asked to imagine the symptoms they believe they might experience as a result of this diagnosis. Students will discuss this in their small groups for approximately 5-7 minutes.
  5. Next, students will be asked to discuss what it might be like to experience this illness. They are asked to consider their own loved ones and social support network and consider questions like: Would this change things in your life, how might it change things in your life, how might your friends and family react or change their behavior toward you, how might strangers act if they knew you had this disorder?  To help students with this use an example- see Mini Lesson PowerPoint. If students still struggle to imagine this, it may be helpful to discuss what some students have observed in real life.  Students will discuss this for approximately 10 minutes.
  6. One of the students in each group will volunteer and will  introduce their diagnosis and briefly describe how they believe this diagnosis reflects their experience, and how it has impacted their life. Students will have a chance to ask questions of the volunteer as the individual with mental illness.  As the student is role playing, the instructor will write down the symptoms and experiences on the white/chalk board related as they speak.  This will help students retain important information and validates students’ responses.
  7. Although students are encouraged to voice opinions throughout the exercise, the exercise will conclude with a debriefing discussion in which students can voice their opinions and concerns about student’s portrayal of mental illness. This will also help address issues of stigma and negative perceptions of abnormal psychology.
  8. Finally, this lesson could be paired with an homework assignment reflection in which students write about the experience in class and possible life experiences as well.


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