Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Mental health stigma

4-minute read

On this page


What is mental health stigma?

A stigma can be like a mark, a stain or a blemish. People with mental illness may face stigma — they may be treated differently, as if they are somehow less than other people.

Stigma shows when someone with a mental illness is called 'dangerous', 'crazy' or 'incompetent' rather than unwell.

Stigma can lead people with mental illness to be discriminated against and miss out on work or housing, bullied or to become a victim of violence. It can also mean they don’t seek treatment when they need it.

Why does stigma exist?

Stigma exists mainly because some people don't understand mental illness, and also because some people have negative attitudes or beliefs towards it. Even some mental health professionals have negative beliefs about the people they care for.

Media can also play a part in reinforcing a stigma by:

  • portraying inaccurate stereotypes about people with a mental illness
  • sensationalising situations through unwarranted references to mental illness
  • using demeaning or hostile language

For example, if a part of the media associates mental illness with violence, that promotes the myth that all people with a mental illness are dangerous. In fact, research shows people with mental illness are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence.

How does stigma affect people with mental illness?

A person who is stigmatised may be treated differently and excluded from many things the rest of society takes for granted.

People with mental illness may also take on board the prejudiced views held by others, which can affect their self-esteem. This can lead them to not seek treatment, to withdraw frcom society, to alcohol and drug abuse or even to suicide.

How to deal with stigma

Here are some ways to deal with stigma.

Don't believe that you are your illness

Someone with a broken ankle is not a brokenanklitic — they are more than their illness. So are you.

If you have bipolar disorder, say 'I have bipolar disorder' rather than 'I’m bipolar'. If you convince yourself first that you're a person, not a walking illness, others will find it easier to see you that way too.

Don't take it personally

Most discrimination comes from people who don't understand or have little or no experience of mental illness. Try to consider it as their problem, not yours.

Use facts

Mental illness is common. It is not a sign of weakness. Learn some useful facts and figures, and tell people about it.

Tell your story (if you want)

The more mental illness remains hidden, the more people think it must be something to be ashamed of. You can choose how much you reveal about your life.

Choose who you deal with

That's easier in some places than others. For example, it's hard to do that at work but much easier with friends. Some people get it when you talk to them; others never will.

Reducing stigma

To help in reducing mental health stigma, it’s important to understand what someone with mental illness may be going through.

It's important to know that people with mental illness have the same rights as everybody else.

When negative stereotypes come up in conversation or in the media, you can actively dispel myths and educate people against harmful, inaccurate stereotyping.

Be mindful about the words you use when describing yourself and others, avoiding insensitive and hurtful words, such as 'nutter', 'loopy', 'crazy' and 'psycho'.

There are also organisations that can help you with dealing with mental illness stigma.

Where to get support

If you suffer from stigma or know someone who does, help is available from:

  • mental health professionals, such as psychologists, counsellors or psychiatrists
  • local community health centres
  • local community mental health centres

You can also learn more here about how to deal with any stigma you face. If you want to report stigma, visit the SANE Australia website and fill out an online report form or call 1800 18 SANE (7263).

For immediate counselling assistance, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2019


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Stigma, discrimination and mental illness - Better Health Channel

Stigma is when someone sees you in a negative way because of a particular characteristic or attribute, such as mental illness. When someone treats you in a negative way because of your mental illness, this is discrimination. Treating all people with respect and dignity means not judging, labelling or discriminating against them based on any personal attribute, including mental illness.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Understanding mental health | Health and wellbeing | Queensland Government

Information on mental illness stigma. How it affects people living with mental illness and how you can reduce mental illness stigma.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Fact vs myth: mental illness basics

Everyone’s got an opinion about mental health, but opinions based on myths add to stigma and make life harder for people affected by mental illness. S...

Read more on SANE Australia website

Reducing stigma

Taking action on stigma is simple

Read more on SANE Australia website

How to talk to young children about mental health | Queensland Health

Talking to children about mental wellbeing and health from a young age can help them understand their emotions, develop resilience and reduce stigma about mental illness.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Exploding Myths About Epilepsy

For many people, overcoming problems related to the social stigma of epilepsy is harder than living with the disease itself.

Read more on Epilepsy Action Australia website

Talking to teenagers

Information and advice on talking to teenagers about your mental illness or mental health problem.

Read more on COPMI – Children of Parents with a Mental Illness website

Starting the conversation

About starting a conversation about mental illness with your child and family. Tips to think about and advice about how to approach the discussion.

Read more on COPMI – Children of Parents with a Mental Illness website

Suicide signs to look for | National Centre for Farmer Health

Suicide continues to be a major cause of avoidable death among farmers in Australia. Occupational, environmental, social and climatic conditions, poor access to health care services and stigma all contribute. Read more...

Read more on National Centre for Farmer Health website

Psychoeducation - BluePages

Find out if psychoeducation is likely to help.

Read more on e-hub Web Services - Australian National University (ANU) website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo