Recognising Stigma

Stigma can manifest itself in lots of different ways. Sometimes it's subtle, other times it's more obvious.

Some examples of stigma:

  • If people react negatively or judgmentally when someone discloses a mental health problem, it can be distressing and devaluing for the person concerned. Phrases such as "Pull yourself together" or "It’s all in your head" can discourage them from speaking out again. Examples of positive ways to respond when someone tells you that they are struggling:

Ask if there’s anything you can do to help.

Listen sensitively, don’t judge, pressurise or ask too many questions.

Let them know that you’re there for them and that you will respect their confidence.

Thank them for telling you – seeking help is a sign of strength.

  • The media can reinforce negative stereotyping around mental health by associating it with derogatory language ("psycho"; "nutter"; "a bit mental"), negative stereotypes (violence, criminality or threatening and irresponsible behaviour) and uninformed, sensationalist headlines about topics such as suicide.
  • Social stereotypes often portray mental health problems and help-seeking as a sign of weakness – men and boys showing their feelings, for example, or people talking openly about mental health in the workplace.
  • Treating people differently due to their mental ill health, and avoiding or underestimating their abilities, can worsen their mental health, reinforcing any negative feelings they may have about themselves. Examples of this would be assuming that someone won’t want to take part in activities, making choices on their behalf or assuming that they won’t cope with certain situations. We should all remember that they are still the individuals we know – they are just working through a period of ill health and will benefit from your support.
  • Stigma occurs when people are defined as an illness rather than as an individual with their own needs, values and opinions. This can occur in the workplace, within health services or in personal/social contexts; it can have a negative impact on a person’s sense of identity, self-worth and hope for a life beyond the illness.