Challenging Stigma

To stigmatise or discriminate against someone is to treat them unfairly with disgrace or disapproval.

What is stigma?

To discriminate against or stigmatise someone is to treat them unfairly, with disgrace or disapproval. People who are stigmatised are often labelled as ‘different’ and, as a result, are excluded and devalued by society.

Experiencing a mental health problem is hard for anyone to cope with. Seeking help to start the journey towards recovery and rebuilding one's life can be made much harder by unfair treatment and feelings of judgement.

People who experience mental ill health have to live with high levels of stigma. Nine out of 10 people in the UK living with mental health problems feel that stigma negatively affects their lives, whilst research in Northern Ireland has shown that mental illness evokes the most negative attitudes out of all disabilities (Equality Commission NI, 2011).

Stigma around mental health can be the result of:

  • A lack of knowledge and understanding about mental health.
  • Negative attitudes, language and behaviour towards people with mental health problems.
  • Those living with mental ill health being define by their conditions, rather than as individuals, thus devaluing a their sense of self.
  • Discrimination against, and unfair treatment of, people with mental health problems, which places limits on opportunities and rights.
  • A lack of resources and unequal funding for mental health services, alongside a lack of progress and innovation around policy and legislation.

It can operate on multiple levels including:

  • Public stigma, where society collectively reinforces negative stereotypes about mental illness through channels such as the media.
  • Self-stigma, when individuals accept the negative attitudes of society and come to believe they are less worthy of respect than others, due to their own illnesses.

The effects of stigma on a person with mental health problems, as well as those close to them, are far-reaching, permeating daily life. It diminishes self-esteem and confidence, disrupts family relationships and social lives, and limits access to services and opportunities in education and employment. Perhaps most worryingly, it can prevent people from seeking the help and support they need.