Experiencing Stigma and Discrimination

If you have experienced stigma and discrimination due to mental health problems then it's likely to have had a profound impact on your day to day life

It can be difficult to talk about your own mental illness and when people do speak out they often feel that they are let down and misunderstood by family, friends, health professionals and work colleagues. Whilst recognising that this is often unintentional, it can have a big affect on being able to deal with your illness. 

Stigma and discrimination can make you feel like you don’t matter and it can be frustrating to think that others view a mental health diagnosis as a more important part of your personality than the person themselves. The impact that the actions and reactions of others have on an individual should not be underestimated. Stigma and discrimination can leave you feeling isolated and can affect your day to day life.

Common issues that people face:

  • Difficulty in finding and keeping a job.
  • Isolation from friends, family and daily activities.
  • Harder to stay in stable long-term relationship.
  • Fear to open up to professionals, family and friends about mental ill health.
  • Anxiety about health due to overwhelming belief of not being listened to.
  • Avoiding speaking to doctors about mental health concerns which means treatment and care is not given. This can also have a knock on effect on recovery.
  • Making excuses for not going out places due to the fear of just telling people about feeling unwell mentally.
  • Low self esteem from believing the stereotypes portrayed about mental ill health.
  • Physical health can be affected too.
  • Negative experiences makes it harder to ask for help. 

Where does stigma and discrimination occur?

Anyone can be stigmatised at work, university, by a friend or sitting behind their keyboard chatting on social media. In reality, we're not immune from stigma and discrimination anywhere. That's why we all need to be prepared to challenge stigmatising behaviour and discrimination wherever we come across it: 

  • Education settings from school, college and university.
  • Workplace environment: in employment or whilst applying for a job.
  • Within the health service amongst other health care professionals.
  • In ourselves – we self stigmatise.
  • Through the media. From television programmes to radio, newspapers and magazines we read.
  • Social settings such as a night out in the pub.
  • On public transport.
  • At home or from family members and friends.
  • Because of your social class.
  • When you experience mental illness along with another diagnosis e.g addiction.


Challenging Inappropriate Behaviour 

Put yourself in the shoes of the person who is at the receiving end of the words, behaviour or actions and imagine how that makes them feel. Together or as individuals we need to have the strength to challenge anyone who fails to treat someone with a mental health problem with respect, dignity and as an equal. 

Often, the people behaving inappropriately may not mean to cause harm and are ignorant of the negative impact of their actions or words. Simply by explaining the situation may be enough for them not to make the same mistakes again. The good news is inappropriate behaviour is increasingly not tolerated as awareness and better understanding about mental ill health continues to spread. However, phrases and words will still crop up in our day to day lives from direct conversations, our experiences and in the media. Phrases like 'pull yourself together' or 'there are people worse off than you' can hurt and affect those battling mental ill health. 

Examples of casual stigma: 

  • Language used (nuts, mental, psycho, weirdo, a bit OCD).
  • Reinforcing stereotypes such as the mental patient Halloween costume, Frank Bruno psycho headline.
  • Unhelpful comments - “Is that you out on day leave?” said taxi driver.
  • Pictures used to depict mental ill health like the "head clutcher".

Other things to look out for: 

  • Avoid making a judgement based on a diagnosis of mental illness.
  • Don’t Ignore a cry for help from a friend or family member as you see their behaviour as attention seeking when in actual fact, seeking attention is nothing to feel ashamed about but a sign of strength.
  • Making someone feel different due to mental ill health which can hinder recovery by causing self doubt over the validity of the illness – ‘am I really ill?’
  • Recognising that opening up to friends and family is still too daunting an experience for many with mental ill health. Be patient and wait till they are ready. Don't show frustration and be there to listen non-judgementally when the time is right.
  • Don’t steer clear of someone with a mental health diagnosis. They are still the person you know but are unwell.


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Anyone can help to tackle stigma and discrimination. You can do as little or as much as you're able to and it all makes a difference.

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