Mental illness does not discriminate, but people sometimes do.

It’s reality for most people living with mental illness, that stigma and discrimination are part of their lives.

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What is stigma?

Stigma happens when a group in society are not regarded with the same respect as others. There are numerous definitions but, put simply, stigma is primarily a problem of behaviours resulting in the unfair and inequitable treatment of people. Stigma involves a variety of myths, prejudices, and negative stereotyping of people with mental health issues.

“Stigma was for me the most agonising part of my disorder. It cost friendships, career opportunities and, most importantly, my self-esteem”

Reducing Stigma | What can be done?

Reducing stigma isn’t easy but it is ”the single most important barrier to overcome” according to the World Health Organisation. In fact Dr Norman Sartotius, the President of Association for the Advancement of Mental Health, has said: ‘Experience from all over the world proves that it is not possible to build satisfactory mental health programs without a serious and continuous effort to reduce or prevent stigmatisation of mental illness.’

A 2008 report for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand examined the issue of self-stigma in detail and made eight recommendations to eliminate it:

  • recognise the contribution of (people with) mental illness and foster leadership
  • celebrate and accept difference
  • affirm human rights
  • encourage disclosure
  • encourage recovery-oriented practices
  • encourage empowerment
  • support peer support services
  • challenge attitudes and behaviour

Evidence suggests at least two key strategies to reduce stigma generally:

Educational approach – which provides people with information and resources that challenges inaccurate stereotypes and replaces them with factual information.

Contact-based approach – which facilitates personal contact with people with a mental illness.

Links to resources

Stigma factsheet
Understanding stigma | Booklet
‘A Life Without Stigma’ | A SANE report

For more information on mental illness stigma and the Stop Mental Illness Charter click here.