A stigma is a mark, a stain, a blemish. People with mental illness may face stigma - they may be treated as different, as if they are somehow less than other people. The stigma is not true or fair, but it still hurts.
If you have or have had a mental illness, finding a way to deal with stigma is important. If you know someone with mental illness, helping them deal with the stigma is a great way to help. Either way, support and help is available.
What is mental illness stigma?
Stigma occurs whenever there are negative opinions, judgments or stereotypes about anyone with any form of mental illness.
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.
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 against mental illness by:
- portraying mentally ill people with inaccurate stereotypes
- 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 from society, to alcohol and drug abuse or even to suicide.
Last reviewed: September 2015