A Feeling of Otherness: A Qualitative Research Synthesis Exploring the Lived Experiences of Stigma in Individuals with Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Jul 29;18(15):8038.doi: 10.3390/ijerph18158038.

Kate Muse 1, Emma Johnson 2, Annabel L David 2


Author information

  • 1School of Psychology, University of Worcester, Worcester WR2 6AJ, UK.
  • 2Children's Psychological Medicine, Oxford Children's Hospital, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Oxford OX3 9DU, UK.


Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) consists of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, chronic conditions involving inflammation and ulceration of the gastrointestinal tract. Individuals with IBD may be susceptible to experiencing health-related stigma: experienced, perceived, or internalised social exclusion, rejection, blame, or devaluation resulting from negative social judgements based on the disease. This qualitative research synthesis draws together findings from 38 studies describing lived experiences to develop a unified interpretative account of the experience of stigma in IBD. Analysis developed two categories: 'The IBD journey' explores the dynamic ways in which having IBD impacted on individuals' self-identity and 'a need to be understood' examines the tension between wanting to be understood whilst feeling their true experiences needed to be hidden from or were misjudged by the social sphere. The overarching concept 'feeling of otherness' highlights that, rather than a static, binary experience, individuals moved across a continuum ranging from the excluding experience of feeling stigmatised and othered, to the inclusive experience of integration. Individuals fluctuated along this continuum across different physical, social, and health contexts. Psychological adjustment to IBD, drawing on experience of adaptive coping, and reconnecting with valued others through illness disclosure strengthened stigma resistance during more challenging times.

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