Author ORCID Identifier


Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Holley Wilkin

Second Advisor

Dr. Cynthia Hoffner

Third Advisor

Dr. Jaye Atkinson

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Ashli Owen-Smith


The suicide rate disparity of men in rural America has continued to increase year after year. While this is a complex public health problem with many contributing factors, this study examines the stigma of mental illness in men, a recognized contributing factor to increased suicide rates among rural men. Grounded in communication infrastructure theory and the model of stigma communication, this study sought to collect data for the first phase in the development of a stigma communication intervention program for Rabun County, GA, a rural Appalachian community in north Georgia. Twenty-four in-depth interviews were conducted with Rabun County residents to assess the communication infrastructure, where stigma narratives are encountered in the communication infrastructure, and what stigma narratives are present in the communication infrastructure. Findings showed that stigma narratives were most encountered on the micro-level, specifically through conversations with family and friends. On the meso-level, church organizations were also reported as highly influential in the spread of stigma messages surrounding men with mental health issues. Some of the most prominent stigma messages associated with men with mental illness were weakness, lacking faith, and dangerousness. Suicide stigma also appeared to be much stronger than the stigma of mental illness. Through this research, a theoretical model was also developed to aid in future intervention studies of this type. The model of stigma storytelling combines concepts from communication infrastructure theory and the model of stigma communication. Future research should use this model to continue the development and implementation of the multi-phase stigma communication intervention program in Rabun County. Additional research in this area should continue to explore how the stigma of mental health issues in men contributes to the rising rates of suicide rates. The stigma of suicide and suicidal ideation in rural populations should also be explored further as this topic does not seem to be perceived the same as mental illness, suggesting the topic of suicide is more taboo, carrying a stronger stigma than mental illness in general.


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