Fighting the Stigma Surrounding Mental Illness


People with mental illness face many prejudices. For example, one may wrongly assume that they are unpredictable, violent or lazy and perceive them as a threat. Thus, mental illness still causes fear and embarrassment for some people.

Prejudices lead to stigmatizing attitudes and discrimination against people with mental illness. In other words, they are judged negatively and often rejected or avoided. Such attitudes reflect misconceptions and ignorance regarding mental illness.

Some people with mental illness find that these stigmatizing attitudes and discrimination are at times more difficult to deal with than the mental illness itself.

These prejudices exist as much in the people who suffer from mental illness as they do in the general population. These prejudices discourage people with mental illness from seeking help. Yet a rapid response to their needs, from the onset of symptoms, is crucial to the success of their treatment.

The Most Common Prejudices

Here are some misconceptions about mental illness:

  • “Schizophrenics are violent.”
  • “People suffering from depression lack willpower.”
  • “People suffering from anxiety have a weak personality.”
  • “People with bipolar disorder are difficult to manage.”

The media sometimes feeds these prejudices by presenting people with mental illness as being violent and unpredictable.

Consequences for People with Mental Illness

The following are examples of stigmatizing attitudes and discrimination against people with mental illness:

  • Certain friends and family members may limit their contact with them, which increases their isolation 
  • Some employers discriminate against them. For example, an employer decides not to offer a promotion to someone with a mental illness
  • Healthcare workers respond less quickly to people who have a mental illness or do not believe them when they describe their physical symptoms
  • Landlords are reluctant to rent to them

Such attitudes have an impact on people suffering from mental illness. For example, they may lead them to:

  • Experience a drop in self-esteem
  • Doubt themselves
  • Avoid discussing their concerns with others
  • Hesitate to seek help
  • Avoid following recommended treatment
  • Feel ashamed or embarrassed
  • Be overly critical of themselves
  • Decide to no longer work for fear of others’ reaction and judgment
  • Deprive themselves from fully participating in their social life

Advice for Fighting Prejudice

Everyone can fight the prejudice that leads to stigmatization and discrimination.

Advice for Everyone

  • Help change negative attitudes and discriminatory behaviour towards people with mental illness. For example, intervene when people make jokes or unpleasant or inappropriate comments. Remind them that their comments can sometimes be hurtful
  • Help educate people about mental illness by offering accurate information
  • Openly express positive comments about people who suffer from a mental illness
  • Support community initiatives to fight the stigmatization and discrimination associated with mental health

Advice for People Suffering from Mental Illness

  • Developing your knowledge and understanding of mental illness will help increase your self-confidence and trust in your abilities. For instance, participate in self-help and support groups in order to be properly informed. This way, you can talk with other people who are in the same situation and share your experiences
  • Tell people about your mental illness, if you so wish. Speaking to people directly will help them better understand your reality. This also encourages others to have a more positive and supportive attitude towards those who suffer from mental illness. By talking publicly about their mental health issues, many famous people have helped fight prejudices surrounding mental illness
  • Join the various existing committees in your community or health and social services network organizations. Your experiences can serve to better adapt services offered to the general public. Check with user committees This link opens a new window. or community organizations in your area

Last update: November 15, 2016 2:15 PM


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