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Stigma in mental health

By Catherine Karega| Updated March 15, 2023

Break the stigma created by FineMindPsych

What is stigma?

Stigma involves negative attitudes or discrimination against someone based on a distinguishing characteristic for instance mental illness, health condition, or disability.

Stigma in mental health also involves attitudes towards psychiatric illnesses which tend to be more negative than that toward medical conditions.

Stigma people with mental illness can be subtle or it can be obvious—but no matter the magnitude, it can lead to harm. People with mental illness are marginalized and discriminated against in various ways, but understanding what that looks like and how to address and eradicate it can help.

Types of stigma

Public or Social stigma is defined as the degree to which the general public holds negative views and discriminates against a specific group. Simply, this is how one thinks others would view and treat them if they had a mental illness.

Personal or Self-perceived stigma involves an internalized stigma the person with a mental illness suffers from. This is how one actually would view and treat others themselves.

Institutional stigma is systemic, involving policies of government and private organizations that intentionally or unintentionally limit opportunities for people with mental illness.

Studies have shown that adolescents and young adults overestimate public stigma against mental health treatment especially in relation to their own self-perceived stigma. Many of them view a mental illness as a reflection of personal weakness.

Causes and impact of stigma

It is safe to say that every culture, race and community in the world perpetuates some form of stigma surrounding mental illness. This also means that the causes of stigma can be many and varied. There are some that are common across societies:

Cultural beliefs about mental illness often lead to individuals being socially isolated and perpetuates feelings of guilt and shame.

There are also significant implications with respect to stigma experienced by families and caregivers of people living with mental illnesses. Most families may be hesitant to seek treatment for their children or family members with mental illnesses. This can go to the extremes of locking them away from society and a change in the perception of their morality or social standing.

Negative media portrayal has been found to lower self-esteem, reduce help- seeking behaviors, and negatively impact adherence to medication and treatment.

Media portrayal of mental illness and its treatment. Studies consistently show that both entertainment and news media provide dramatic and distorted images of mental illness.

They go so far as to depict people with mental disorders as dangerous, unpredictable and criminals.

  • Harmful stereotypes about how people with mental illness are, for instance, that they are violent or that they cannot learn to live and work in society.

  • Lack of awareness of the symptoms, causes, prevalence and treatment of mental disorders.

The impact of perpetuated stigma includes;

  • Not seeking mental health care services

  • Increases anxiety and depressive symptoms

  • Continued substance abuse

  • Social isolation

  • Medication non-compliance

  • Treatment drop-out

  • Belief that one will never succeed at certain challenges or that they cannot improve their situation

How to combat stigma

Talk openly about mental health, such as sharing on social media

Educate yourself and others- respond to misperceptions or negative comments by sharing facts and experiences.

Be conscious of language. Using correct language when talking about mental health makes a big difference.

Show compassion for those with mental illness.

Be honest about treatment. This can be done by normalizing mental health treatment like other forms of medical treatment.

Let the media know when they are using stigmatising language when presenting stories of mental illness.

Find mental health resources. Speak to a qualified therapist at Free Mind Psychology.

By Catherine Karega, MA Clinical Psychology


1. Ciftci, A., Jones, N., & Corrigan, P. (2013). Mental health stigma in the muslim community. Journal of Muslim Mental Health, 7(1), 17-32.

2. Corrigan, P. (2004). How stigma interferes with mental health care. American Psychologist, 59(7), 614-625. 10.1037/0003-066X.59.7.614

3. Stigma, Prejudice and Discrimination Against People with Mental Illness. (n.d.). American Psychiatric Association. Retrieved March 15, 2023, from

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