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Fighting the stigma surrounding mental disorders


People with mental illness may be victims of prejudice. These misconceptions or preconceived ideas often arise from a lack of information. They can lead to stigmatization and discrimination against people with mental illness or those with behaviours that are not considered normal. These people may be judged, rejected or avoided.

As well as causing suffering and isolation, this stigma can discourage people from asking for help for themselves or a loved one. This delay can have a negative impact on their quality of life, functioning and recovery.

The most common prejudices

Here are some misconceptions about mental illness:

  • “Schizophrenics are violent”;
  • “Depressed people lack willpower, don’t try hard enough, are lazy”;
  • “Anxious people lack character and are weak”;
  • “Bipolar people are hard to manage and only want attention.”

The collective imagination associates certain mental disorders with dangerousness. We also see this with fictional characters in movies or television series. The media sometimes feeds certain prejudices by describing people with mental illness as being violent or unpredictable. The sensationalist tone used to report the news or the omission of certain important nuances can contribute to this.

The vast majority of people with mental illness do not present violent behaviour. They are, in fact, at greater risk of being victimized.

Consequences for people with mental illness

Prejudices can lead to stigma and discrimination against people with mental illness, their family and their social circle. Here are some examples:

  • Some friends and family members may limit their contact with them, which increases their isolation;
  • Some children may be teased or rejected because of a loved one’s mental illness;
  • Some employers may have discriminatory practices. For example, an employer may decide not to offer a promotion or to take away responsibilities from an individual because of his or her mental illness. The employer’s prejudices might lead him or her to think that the person would be inappropriate in his or her interactions with others, or that the person would be unreliable;
  • Some healthcare workers do not believe people with mental illness when they complain about physical symptoms. They assume every discomfort is a manifestation of the mental illness. This can delay the administration of medication or the diagnosis of potentially serious illness;
  • Some landlords are reluctant to rent to people with mental illness or associated symptoms.

These behaviours have an impact on the person who faces stigma or discrimination. 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;
  • Stop following the recommended treatments;
  • Feel ashamed or embarrassed;
  • Be overly critical of themselves;
  • Decide to no longer study or work for fear of others’ reactions and judgment;
  • Cut ties with loves ones;
  • 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. For example, intervene when people make jokes or unpleasant or inappropriate comments. Remind them that their comments can be hurtful to people and contribute to their stigmatization.
  • Help educate people about mental illness by offering quality information.
  • Openly express positive opinions 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

  • Boost your confidence in yourself and your abilities by developing your knowledge and understanding of your mental illness or your symptoms. For example, you can participate in self-help and support groups, and talk to other people who are in the same situation as you are.
  • Join the various existing committees in your community or health and social services network. Your experiences can serve to better adapt programs and services offered to the public. Learn about user committees This hyperlink will open in a new window. or community organizations in your area.

Help and resources

To find information and support resources, or to obtain treatment or services for you or a loved one, see the Mental health help and support resources page.

Last update: December 13, 2021


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