The Stigma of Mental Illness

The Stigma of Mental Illness

Many people with mental illness say that the stigma that surrounds mental illness is harder to live with than the disease itself.

Stigma refers to “a cluster of negative attitudes and beliefs that motivate the general public to fear, reject, avoidand discriminate against people with mental illness. Stigma is not just a matter of using the wrong word oraction. Stigma is about disrespect. It is the use of negative labels to identify a person living with mental illness.

Stigma is a barrier. Fear of stigma and the resulting discrimination discourages individuals and their familiesfrom getting the help they need.” (SAMHSA, 2004).

It is important to remember that stigma is not unique to mental illness. Stigma can occur in many differentcontexts including social and interpersonal relationships such as gender identity, culture, sexual preference,etc. Nor are mental illnesses the only illnesses that are or have been the focus of stigma. Some other illnessesthat have been the focus of significant stigma include: Leprosy, Smallpox, Syphilis, Cancer and HIV/AIDS.

 Studies showing that nearly two-thirds of all people with mental disorders do not seek treatment. While the reasons for this are varied, weknow that stigma is a significant barrier that discourages people from seeking treatment.

In understanding how to successfully address the stigma of illnesses so that both the stigma and improved

access to effective health care occur, it is useful to consider how both of these outcomes have occurred in thecontext of other illnesses. This is summarized below as historical Factors Promoting Stigma and Responses decreasing Stigma.

The Stigma of Mental Illness

“Stigma refers to a cluster of negative attitudes and beliefs that motivate the general public to fear, reject, avoid and discriminate against peoplewith mental illnesses. Stigma is not just a matterof using the wrong word or action. Stigma isabout disrespect. It is the use of negative labelsto identify a person living with mental illness.

Stigma is a barrier. Fear of stigma and theresulting discrimination discourages individualsand their families from getting the help theyneed.” (SAMHSA 2004)