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Faculty of Community Services

Reducing HIV and mental illness stigma in immigrant and racialized communities

josephone pui hing wong

josephone pui hing wong

MAY 1, 2016


Through community-based action research, Josephine Pui-Hing Wong is reducing the stigma of HIV and mental illness to advance health equity in marginalized communities.

A professor in the Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing, Wong found that self-stigma and social stigma were barriers that created an unsafe environment for disclosing and addressing HIV infection in Black, Asian and Latino communities in the GTA.

Wong’s CHAMP (Community Champions HIV/AIDS Advocates Mobilization Project) study, published in 2015, applied and evaluated the effectiveness of two types of stigma-reduction training for people living with HIV and for community leaders not living with HIV. Results showed the two interventions – Acceptance Commitment Training (ACT) and Social Justice Capacity Building (SJCB) – changed people’s attitudes and actions individually and collectively.

People living with HIV had less self-stigma after the interventions. Community leaders had reduced stigma against and felt more empathy toward people living with HIV. “Some people who had never disclosed their HIV status to their families told their families. Community leaders who didn’t know much about HIV started volunteering and speaking out against HIV-related stigma and discrimination. In the nine months after the interventions, 62 participants had completed 1,090 social justice and stigma-reduction activities that transformed their lives and communities,” says Wong.

Wong’s success in using these interventions in CHAMP has led to Strength in Unity, a larger $3-million national study, funded by the Movember Foundation, to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness in Asian communities. Along with Ryerson nursing professors Sepali Guruge and Souraya Sidani, Wong is working with a national team to engage Asian men in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. The team is applying and evaluating two interventions – ACT and Context-Based Empowerment Education (CEE, led by Guruge) – to lessen the stigma of mental illness.

The aim of the study is to mobilize over two thousand Asian men, aged 17 and older, in the three cities to become mental health promotion ambassadors. This initiative is expected to help more Asian men and their families seek and have timely access to mental health services.

Wong is also leading weSpeak, a $1.5-million, five-year, multi-city research program – funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN) – that aims to reduce vulnerability for HIV and promote resilience among heterosexual African, Caribbean and Black men in Ontario through meaningful engagement and capacity building. “The goal of my research in this and other projects is to address health inequity and promote resilience and collective empowerment in real life,” concludes Wong.