Stigma and Discrimination

It’s quite likely that one day you, one of your friends, colleagues or family members will experience a mental health problem. Yet mental illness is still surrounded by prejudice, ignorance and fear.

What does this mean?

The attitudes people have towards those of us with mental health problems mean it is harder for them to work, make friends and in short, live a normal life.

  • People become isolated

  • They are excluded from everyday activities

  • It is harder to get or keep a job

  • People can be reluctant to seek help, which makes recovery slower and more difficult

  • Their physical health is affected.

Many people say that being discriminated against in work and social situations can be a bigger burden than the illness itself. It has an impact on society and the economy too, when people who can work are denied the opportunity to, and when people are prevented from playing an active role in their communities.

How widespread is stigma?

Despite attitudes about sexuality, ethnicity and other similar issues improving, discrimination against people with mental health problems is still widespread. Almost nine out of ten people with mental health problems (87%) reported the negative impact of stigma and discrimination on their lives. Research also shows that the way family, friends, neighbors and co-workers behave can have a big impact on the lives of people with mental health problems.

How can I help?

You can help us create a society where mental health problems are not hidden in shame and secrecy. You can ensure your friend or relative is not afraid to speak out about their problems, or is left wondering where they can turn for help.


Living with Stigma

Making friends, holding down a job, keeping fit, staying healthy… these are all normal everyday parts of life. But the stigma that surrounds mental illness makes all these things a lot more difficult.

Stigma isolates people

People often find it hard to tell others about a mental health problem they have, because they fear the reaction. And when they do speak up, the overwhelming majority say they are misunderstood by family members, shunned and ignored by friends, co-workers and professionals. Psychiatric patients are four times more likely than the average not to have a close friend and more than a third say they have no one to turn to for help.

It excludes people from day-to-day activities

Everyday activities like going shopping, going to a bar, going on vacation or joining a club are far harder for people with mental health problems. What’s more, about a quarter of people with a mental illness have been refused by insurance or finance companies, making it hard to travel, own property or run a business.

It stops people getting and keeping jobs

People with mental health problems have the highest ‘want to work’ rate of any disability group – but have the lowest in-work rate. One third report having been dismissed or forced to resign from their job and 70% have been put off applying for jobs, fearing unfair treatment.

It prevents people seeking help

We know that when people first experience a mental health problem they tend not to seek help early and tend to come into contact with mental health services only when a crisis has developed. This also means there are many people with mental health problems who receive no treatment or care.

It has a negative impact on physical health

We know that people with mental health problems tend to have poorer than average physical health and, as a result, people with the most severe mental health problems die on average ten years younger. Almost half of people with mental health problems report discrimination from doctors who think physical problems are being imagined or made up.

It delays treatment and impairs recovery

Not seeking help early means that recovery can be more difficult. People with mental health problems often report that they are not listened to by health professionals and feel unable to request changes to their treatment. 


The Stigma Impact Checklist

Most people probably agree that there are misperceptions or a stigma around mental illnesses. Sometimes it’s hard to understand the specific ways in which this stigma impacts each of us. The purpose of this checklist is simply to bring awareness to subtle and not so subtle examples of stigma so that we can all be more conscious about letting go of it.

It’s not about blame, it’s about how and when people might not be in a place of acceptance, comfort, approval, and respect when it comes to mental illnesses. And, acceptance, comfort, approval, and respect are truly the opposite of stigma.

Have you ever:

  1. Distanced yourself from someone after learning he or she has diabetes?
  2. Have you ever sent a Get Well card to someone hospitalized for heart surgery?
  3. Have you ever brought dinner to someone who is home recovering from a mastectomy?
  4. Have you ever asked someone with a recent illness, "How are you doing?"
  5. Have you ever offered to drive someone with multiple sclerosis to a medical appointment?
  6. Have you ever asked someone with a recent knee replacement, "Is there anything I can do to help?"

Have you ever:

  1. Distanced yourself from someone after learning he or she has a mental illness?
  2. Have you ever sent a Get Well card to someone hospitalized for a mental illness?
  3. Have you ever brought dinner to someone who is home recovering from a mental illness?
  4. Have you ever asked someone with depression, "How are you doing?"
  5. Have you ever offered to drive someone with a mental illness to a medical appointment?
  6. Have you ever asked someone with Bipolar disorder, "Is there anything I can do to help?"