Recognising Stigma

Stigma can manifest itself in lots of different ways, sometimes its more subtle, other times more obviously.

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 they are struggling with their mental health:

Ask if there’s anything you can do to help

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

Let them know 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 through associating it with derogatory language (such as ‘psycho’, ‘nutter’, ‘a bit mental’), linking it to negative stereotypes (such as violent, criminal, threatening, irresponsible) and uninformed, sensationalist headlines around incidents such as suicide.
  • Social stereotypes often portray experiencing mental health problems and asking for help as a sign of weakness; for example, for men and boys to show their feelings or for people openly about mental health in the workplace without fear of reprisal or responsibility being removed from them.
  • Treating people differently due to their mental ill health, avoiding or underestimating their abilities can worsen their mental health and re-inforce negative feelings they may already have about themselves. Examples of this would be assuming someone won’t want to take part in activities,making choices on their behalf or assuming they won’t cope with certain things.  Remember they are still the person you know, they are just working through a period of ill health and will benefit from your support.
  • Stigma occurs when people are treated as an illness rather than a person with individual needs, values and opinions; this can occur in the workplace, within health services or in personal / social contexts and can have a negative impact on a person’s sense of identity, self-worth and hope for a life beyond illness.