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Understanding Stigma and its Effects


Learning objectives

  • Develop your understanding of stigma
  • Learn about the different types of stigma
  • Start to understand the effects of stigma, and how demoralising it can be for someone to experience it.


Stigma is when assumptions are made about mental health and how it affects someone’s behaviour. Therefore, people with mental health issues feel isolated and ashamed due to the stigma of mental health issues. You saw in the module video, how the stigma surrouding mental health even affects A-List Celebrities like Ryan Reynolds, so stamping out stigma is crucial in trying to improve the life of those suffering with mental health issues. 

Fear or misunderstanding is the usual cause for stigmatising attitudes, often leading to prejudice against those suffering with mental health issues. This lack of understanding is one of the main reasons why many people don’t consider mental health issues to be an actual illness, causing people who are suffering to have feelings of hopelessness and shame when struggling to cope with their situation, creating a barrier to diagnosis and treatment.

Stigma prevents 40% of people suffering with anxiety or depression from seeking help for their mental health issues. 

Different Types of Stigma

Stigma often comes from a lack of understanding or fear. Often misleading social media representations of mental health disorders contribute to both those factors. While the public may be more accepting of the medical treatment of mental health disorders, many people view those with mental ill health in a negative way, or subconsciously change the way they behave or act towards people who are suffering with mental health disorders. 

Three types of different stigma have been identified:

  • Public Stigma: involves the negative or discriminatory attitudes that others have about mental ill health.

  • Self-stigma: refers to the negative attitudes, including internalized shame, that people with mental health disorders have about their own condition.

  • Institutional Stigma: is more systemic, involving policies of government and private organizations that intentionally or unintentionally limit opportunities for people with mental health disorders. Examples include lower funding for mental health research or fewer mental health services relative to other health care.

Stigma not only directly affects individuals with mental ill health but also the loved ones who support them, often including their family members.

Unfortunately, certain stigma will surround mental health, but everyday, you have the opportunity to show the people around you that they are able to talk about their issues with you and slowly you can break down the stigma in your friendship group.

How you can help reduce the stigma

Stigma is a big reason why so many people deal with mental health problems alone. Breaking down that stigma is crucial in developing a healthy environment for people to feel comfortable to talk about the problems they are dealing with and get the help that they need. Research has also suggested knowing or having contact with someone with mental illness is one of the best ways to reduce stigma. 

Try and think of some ways to let people know you are there for them and are willing to support them with zero judgement.

Below are Seven things you can do to reduce the stigma around mental health. 

  1. Know the facts. Educate yourself about mental ill health (completing this programme is a great step to achieving this).

  2. Be aware of your attitudes and behaviours. Examine your own judgemental thinking, think about how you have spoken to people before if they have said something that you might think was a bit different to usual, and if you dismissed how they were feeling.

  3. Choose the words that you use carefully. What and how you speak can affect the attitudes of others.

  4. Educate your friends and the people around you. By passing on the facts and attitudes you have, it will lead to more people challenging the myths and stereotypes surrounding mental health disorders.

  5. Try and focus on the positives, mental ill health in anyone, is only a small part of anyone’s much larger picture.

  6. Support people, treat everyone with the dignity and respect they deserve; offer support and encouragement. 

  7. Include everyone, do not discriminate against anyone with these health issues.

Harmful effects of stigma and discrimination

Stigma often contributes to worsening symptoms, and reduced the likelihood of those who need help to seek help. 

Effects of stigma and discrimination include:

  • reduced hope

  • lower self-esteem

  • increased symptoms

  • difficulties with maintaining and creating social relationships

  • reduced likelihood of staying with current treatment