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The Stigma of Psychiatric Disorders

The Stigma of Psychiatric Disorders

People living with psychiatric disorders have to deal with a lot. People often make fun of them, deny them opportunities, or simply avoid them due to misinformation or the perpetuation of false stereotypes. This article talks about the stigma of mental health illness and what we can do to bring it down.

What is stigma?

Stigma is a mark associated with a particular person or quality. It can occur when someone judges a person based on their illness or symptoms.
This often happens with psychiatric disorders, where people have negative attitudes or mistreat someone because of their condition.

Different types of stigma

Researchers have identified three types of stigma:

  • Public stigma – when people have negative or discriminatory attitudes against those with mental health conditions.
  • Self-stigma – the prejudice people with mental illness have against themselves.
  • Structural stigma – involves institutional policies and practices that restrict opportunities and rights for people with mental health conditions.

Stigma impacts not just the person with a mental illness but also their loved ones, who may face discrimination and prejudice as well.

Examples of mental illness stigma

Stigma in psychiatric disorders can happen when people say things like "you're crazy," "he's bipolar," or "she doesn't seem to have depression; she smiles a lot."
People with psychiatric illnesses are often made fun of or called weak for seeking help.

There are also stereotypes, frequently reinforced by the media, that people dealing with mental health issues are incompetent, dangerous, or funny.

Where does stigma come from?

Stigma comes from a lack of knowledge and misinformation about mental health diseases. It can also arise from negative attitudes or beliefs about these conditions, leading to discrimination.

The media has played a significant role in perpetuating stigma by portraying individuals with mental illnesses as violent or criminal, reinforcing stereotypes.
Additionally, some mental health professionals may have negative attitudes towards the individuals they care for, contributing to stigma in the healthcare system.

How does stigma affect people with psychiatric conditions?

Nine out of ten people with mental health illnesses say that stigma and discrimination negatively affect their lives.

A stigmatized person may be treated differently and left out of many things, like social events, job opportunities, and getting access to essential services. People with disabilities are less likely to find work, be in a steady relationship, live in adequate housing, and be socially included.

Fear of stigma and discrimination can stop people from getting the help they need. They might put off treatment, which can make their condition worse.

How to cope with stigma?

If you or someone you know is facing stigma, it might be a good idea to talk to a doctor or mental health professional. Additionally, these tips can help navigate the situation more easily:

  • Don’t let your fear of being labeled or discriminated against stop you from getting help.
  • Keep in mind that you’re much more than your illness.
  • Don't take it personally. Many people are afraid or don't understand mental illnesses.
  • Help people understand mental illness by sharing reliable facts and information. If possible, correct any false or inaccurate statements you hear.
  • Join a support group and keep your loved ones close.

Bringing stigma down

Reducing stigma is everyone's job. It’s our responsibility to make life easier for people with mental illnesses. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has shared  ways to reduce mental health stigma in our society:

  • Talk openly about mental health, such as sharing your story on social media.
  • Educate yourself and others about psychiatric and mental health conditions.
  • Use conscious language when talking about mental health.
  • Encourage treating physical and mental illnesses equally.
  • Show compassion for people with mental illness.
  • Normalize mental health treatment, like any other treatment.
  • Inform the media when they use stigmatizing language or show mental illness in a stigmatizing way.
  • Fight self-stigma by living an empowered life.


Many organizations work to address mental health issues and fight mental health stigma. Here are a few examples:

Stop Stigma Together


Stamp Out Stigma

Ending the stigma around mental health isn't easy because there are lots of stereotypes that have been around for a long time. But if everyone – general population, the government, and healthcare workers - works together, we can make life better for people with mental psychiatric disorders.


World Psychiatry. Understanding the impact of stigma on people with mental illness.

Embo reports. The stigma of mental disorders.

American Psychiatric Association. Stigma, Prejudice and Discrimination Against People with Mental Illness.

Mental Health Foundation. Stigma and Discrimination.

National Alliance on Mental Illness. 9 Ways to Fight Mental Health Stigma.

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