What Stigma Does to People Living with Mental Illness

What Stigma Does to People Living with Mental Illness

“There is no country, society or culture where people with mental illness have the same societal value as people without a mental illness.”

Erwin Goffman (1963)

We’ve all heard of stigma. But what does that really mean? There is a lot of talk about stigma and mental illness. On one hand, it is good that we ARE talking about it. On the other, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, Stigma is defined as a negative stereotype. Negative stereotypes lead to discrimination which is a behaviour that causes judgement and creates barriers to equal treatment.

In this year alone, mental health awareness has become a top priority for organizations and individuals alike with the spike in mental illness “due to Covid”. Mental health will always be an issue, no matter what the world is dealing with.

You have likely heard the connection between stigma and mental illness.

It goes something like this: A friend or colleague confides in you about a recent mental health experience and then says, “Please don’t tell anyone. I don’t want anyone to know. If this gets out, I’ll lose my job/family/friends.” You nod, knowingly.

Sound familiar? The reality is that 42% of Canadians surveyed by the Canadian Medical Association in 2008 were unsure whether they would socialize with a friend who has a mental illness. The fact that we are still quoting this number in 2021, shows that stigma is still alive.

The fear of exclusion because of negative assumptions and stereotypes connected with mental illness drive people to suffer in silence. In fact, 60% of people with mental health problems or illness won’t seek help for fear of being labelled according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

We’ve defined stigma. But what does the impact look like?

Research shows that stigma from mental illness results in:

  • Decrease in Self-esteem 
  • Loss of confidence in one’s future 
  • exclusion from communities due to fear
  • A stripping of responsibilities for life decisions
  • An assumption that they need to be treated like children

By keeping stigma around mental illness alive, we are contributing to a person’s downward spiral in a time when they need our support the most.

So what can we do to stop the stigma and decrease the suffering caused by the stigma around mental illness? Here are three tips:

  • Educate yourself & encourage those around you to do the same.
    Check out our resource & events page for ongoing learning opportunities.
  • Pay attention to your attitudes and behaviours.
    A good way to do this is to observe your feelings when you are interacting with someone with a mental illness. 
  • Challenge misinformation and myths with facts as soon as you hear them, or read them on social media.

Above all, normalizing mental illness will be the antidote to stigma. For example, according to Dr. Douglas Turkington, a fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, we can all have paranoid thoughts when we get stressed, and even 14% (1 in 7) of us will have an episode of hearing voices. The human brian easily hallucinates when stressed.

If we are all capable of sharing an experience at some point in our lives, isn’t it amazing then that stigma is the main barrier to recovery?

By understanding the impact of stigma on people impacted by mental illness, we can help create a more inclusive community, greater empathy for our friends and loved ones, and hope that we can eradicate stigma once and for all. 

If we can overcome stigma then recovery is inevitable!!