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Fighting the stigma surrounding mental illness


People with mental illness often face many prejudices. For example, one may wrongly assume that they are unpredictable, violent or lazy and perceive them as a threat. Thus, mental illness still causes fear and embarrassment for some people.

Prejudices lead to stigmatizing attitudes and discrimination against people with mental illness. In other words, they are judged negatively and rejected or avoided. Mental illness still nowadays cause fear and shame in some people. Such attitudes reflect misconceptions and ignorance regarding mental illness.

For many people with mental illness these stigmatizing attitudes and discrimination are more difficult to deal with than the mental illness symptoms itself.

These prejudices exist as much in the people who suffer from mental illness as they do in the general population. These prejudices discourage people with mental illness from seeking help. Yet a rapid response to their needs, from the onset of symptoms, is crucial to the success of their treatment.

The most common prejudices

Here are some misconceptions about mental illness:

  • “People with schizophrenics are violent.”
  • “People suffering from depression lack willpower.”
  • “People suffering from anxiety have a weak personality.”
  • “People with bipolar disorder are difficult to manage.”

The media sometimes can feed certain prejudices by presenting people with mental illness as being violent and unpredictable.

Consequences for people with mental illness

The following are examples of stigmatizing attitudes and discrimination against people with mental illness:

  • Certain friends and family members may limit their contact with them, which increases their isolation
  • Some employers discriminate against them. For example, an employer decides not to offer a promotion to someone with a mental illness
  • Healthcare workers respond less quickly to people who have a mental illness or do not believe them when they describe their physical symptoms
  • Landlords are reluctant to rent to them

Such attitudes have an impact on people suffering from mental illness. For example, they may lead them to:

  • Experience a drop in self-esteem
  • Doubt themselves
  • Avoid discussing their concerns with others
  • Hesitate to seek help
  • Avoid following recommended treatment
  • Feel ashamed or embarrassed
  • Be overly critical of themselves
  • Decide to no longer work for fear of others’ reaction and judgment
  • Deprive themselves from fully participating in their social life

Advice for fighting prejudice

Everyone can fight the prejudice that leads to stigmatization and discrimination.

Advice for everyone

  • Help change negative attitudes and discriminatory behaviour towards people with mental illness. For example, intervene when people make jokes or unpleasant or inappropriate comments. Remind them that their comments can be hurtful and contribute to stigmatization of people with mental illness
  • Help educate people about mental illness by offering quality information
  • Openly express positive comments about people who suffer from a mental illness
  • Support community initiatives to fight the stigmatization and discrimination associated with mental illness

Advice for people suffering from mental illness

  • Developing your knowledge and understanding of mental illness will help increase your self-confidence and trust in your abilities. For instance, participate in self-help and support groups in order to be informed. This way, you can talk with other people who are in the same situation and share your experiences
  • Join the various existing committees in your community or health and social services network organizations. Your experiences can serve to better adapt programs and services offered to the general public. Check with user committees This hyperlink will open in a new window. or community organizations in your area

Last update: October 29, 2018


Information on the website in no way replaces the opinion of a health professional. If you have questions concerning your health status, consult a professional.


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