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 mental health when you’re struggling, 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 judge you because of a mental health. 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 health problems.
  • 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 and social care service amongst other health care professionals.
  • In ourselves – we self stigmatise.
  • Through the media. From social media to television programmes and radio, as well as 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.
  • Alongside other stigma and discrimination, because of your race, gender, sexuality, another disability etc.
  • Because of your social class.

Challenging Inappropriate Behaviour

Our research shows that 55% of people feel confident to challenge stigma and discrimination, but we need that number to be much higher, so no one is treated unfairly when they’re struggling.

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 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 experiencing mental health problems. 

Examples of casual stigma: 

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

Other things to look out for: 

  • Avoid making a judgement based on a diagnosis of mental illness.
  • Don’t ignore someone asking for help as you see their behaviour as attention seeking. Seeking attention is nothing to feel ashamed about but a sign of strength and can be the first step to recovery.
  • Making someone feel different due to a mental health problem 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 people struggling with their mental 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. You can also start he conversation, asking someone if they’re okay and showing you care and will listen.
  • Don’t steer clear of someone with a mental health diagnosis. They are still the person you know but are unwell.

Ways We Can Challenge Stigma and Discrimination Together

Social Contact

This is when conversations happen between those who experience mental health problems and those who do not. Social contact can also extend to include listening to, watching or reading about someone’s experiences. Social contact works because it focuses on the people, not the labels of mental illness. This means that negative assumptions and attitudes are challenged, in turn reducing stigma.

Education

Education seeks to replace stigmatising attitudes with accurate representations of mental health. Through providing facts and dispelling myths about mental health, people are better able to understand and support others with mental health problems.

Protest

A protest is a statement or action which shows disapproval or objection. Not all forms of protesting involve big groups of people and signs! It is possible to make small, individual protests and still have an impact. Things like boycotting, petitions and speaking out against inequalities are all ways to protest.

Protests work because they get lots of people rallied around a shared cause and put pressure on decision makers or organisers to change.