IT is estimated that one in four people will experience a mental health difficulty, meaning we may all be affected in some way. The stigma and discrimination associated with a significant mental health problem is, for some people, almost as difficult to manage as the experience of being unwell.

  • Stigma can act as a barrier to seeking support as people fear being labelled as mentally ill.
  • This can lead to feelings of isolation and make the experience of mental health difficulties much worse.
  • Psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression are seen as lifelong labels, which mark the person as different from the rest of society.
  • Research conducted in 2007 showed that six in 10 people would not want anyone to know if they had a mental health difficulty.
  • Ten years on, four in 10 people said they would conceal a mental health difficulty from family, friends or colleagues according to research See Change commissioned.
  • What Is stigma?

    Stigma has been described as a sign of disgrace which distinguishes the person from others.

  • In the context of mental health, it usually involves the use of negative labels to identify people as different.
  • Stigma against those with mental health difficulties takes many forms from the unkind word, social exclusion to higher insurance premiums.
  • This results in the person feeling devalued and may lead them to isolate themselves and conceal their mental health difficulty.
  • Mental health stigma thrives on lack of knowledge and understanding, negative attitudes and hostile or discriminatory behaviour.
  • What is the impact of stigma?

    The discrimination experienced by people because of their mental health problem can act as a barrier to seeking help, speaking out and recovery. The impact of stigma is considered twofold:

    Public Stigma

    Public stigma involves stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination.

  • Stereotyping (e.g. people with mental health difficulties are dangerous). Stereotyping can make it easier to dismiss people with mental health conditions which can lead to social distancing, exclusion and isolation.
  • Prejudice (e.g. people with mental health issues are dangerous and I am afraid of them). Prejudice is when people form opinions without being fully aware of the facts. People with self-experience of mental health conditions frequently encounter prejudice in their daily lives and it has a negative impact.
  • Discrimination (e.g. I do not want to work with someone with a mental health issue/condition). Discrimination occurs when someone is treated less positively or appropriately than others due to their mental health condition.
  • Self-stigma

    For many people the fear of misunderstanding and the prejudice they experience leads them to develop self-stigma. This is where the person starts to believe that what is being said about them is true. Self-stigma can lead a person to believe myths such as they will not recover or cannot hold down a job.

    Where does stigma occur?

    Stigma is very common for people with mental health conditions and they have felt discriminated against in a number of areas, including:

  • Employment: Not being offered roles or not applying for roles
  • Education: Settings such as schools and universities – being labelled as different and not offered opportunities to advance
  • Media: Misrepresentation of mental health difficulties
  • Insurance Companies: Making it more difficult for people with mental health conditions to get insurance
  • Community: Feeling shunned or excluded
  • Families: Rejecting and blaming them for their condition
  • What can be done?

    It may never be possible to totally eliminate inaccurate and hurtful comments, actions and headlines. It is, however, already evident that as people with self-experience and their families speak up and out about their experiences, people listen and many relate with empathy to those experiences.

    How can I help end mental health stigma?

  • Educate yourself on mental health difficulties and the recovery process
  • Recognise the contribution of people who experience mental health difficulties
  • Challenge stigma and discrimination when you hear or see it expressed
  • Consider the language you use and how a simple change in the language you use will show your openness and acceptance
  • Start a conversation with a friend, family member or work colleagues about mental health