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What is stigma?
Three out of four people with a mental illness report that they have experienced stigma. Stigma is a mark of disgrace that sets a person apart. When a person is labelled by their illness they are seen as part of a stereotyped group. Negative attitudes create prejudice which leads to negative actions and discrimination.
Stigma brings experiences and feelings of:
misrepresentation in the media
reluctance to seek and/or accept necessary help
Families are also affected by stigma, leading to a lack of support. For mental health professionals, stigma means that they themselves are seen as abnormal, corrupt or evil, and psychiatric treatments are often viewed with suspicion and horror.
A 2006 Australian study found that
nearly 1 in 4 of people felt depression was a sign of personal weakness and would not employ a person with depression
around a third would not vote for a politician with depression
42% thought people with depression were unpredictable
one in 5 said that if they had depression they would not tell anyone
nearly 2 in 3 people surveyed thought people with schizophrenia were unpredictable and a quarter felt that they were dangerous
Some groups are subjected to multiple types of stigma and discrimination at the same time, such as people with an intellectual disability or those from a cultural or ethnic minority.
How can we challenge stigma?
We all have a role in creating a mentally healthy community that supports recovery and social inclusion and reduces discrimination. Simple ways to help include:
learn and share the facts about mental health and illness
get to know people with personal experiences of mental illness
speak up in protest when friends, family, colleagues or the media display false beliefs and negative stereotypes
offer the same support to people when they are physically or mentally unwell
don't label or judge people with a mental illness, treat them with respect and dignity as you would anyone else
don’t discriminate when it comes to participation, housing and employment
talk openly of your own experience of mental illness. The more hidden mental illness remains, the more people continue to believe that it is shameful and needs to be concealed.
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