What is Stigma?

“The word stigma referred originally to a mark or brand on Greek slaves, clearly separating them from free men.”

-from “Stigma in psychiatry” by Alison J Gray, MRCPsych

“Advances in neuroscience, technology and research sophistication have greatly increased understanding of mental illnesses and improved the treatment of these disorders. However, there are also important psychosocial aspects of mental illness that play a significant role in recovery from these conditions. One set of these factors involves the prejudice and discrimination, often referred to as ‘stigma’, faced by people when others learn that they have been diagnosed with, and/or treated for, a mental disorder.”

-from”Stigma as a barrier to recovery from mental illness” by Otto F. Wahl

“Treatments have been developed and tested to successfully reduce the symptoms and disabilities of many mental illnesses. Unfortunately, people distressed by these illnesses often do not seek out services or choose to fully engage in them. One factor that impedes care seeking and undermines the service system is mental illness stigma.”

-from “The Impact of Mental Illness Stigma on Seeking and Participating in Mental Health Care”

  1. Patrick W. Corrigan Illinois Institute of Technology
  2. Benjamin G. Druss Emory University
  3. Deborah A. Perlick Mount Sinai Hospital, New York City, New York

“Stigma may influence how a psychiatric diagnosis is accepted, whether treatment will be adhered to and how people with mental illness function in the world.”

-from “Stigma: the feelings and experiences of 46 people with mental illness. Qualitative study.” by Sokratis Dinos, Scott Stevens, Marc Serfaty, Scott Weich, Michael King

“The extent to which mental health consumers encounter stigma in their daily lives is a matter of substantial importance for their recovery and quality of life. This article summarizes the results of a nationwide survey of 1,301 mental health consumers concerning their experience of stigma and discrimination. Survey results and followup interviews with 100 respondents revealed experience of stigma from a variety of sources, including communities, families, churches, coworkers, and mental health caregivers. The majority of respondents tended to try to conceal their disorders and worried a great deal that others would find out about their psychiatric status and treat them unfavorably. They reported discouragement, hurt, anger, and lowered self-esteem as results of their experiences, and they urged public education as a means for reducing stigma. Some reported that involvement in advocacy and speaking out when stigma and discrimination were encountered helped them to cope with stigma.”

-from “Mental Health Consumers’ Experience of Stigma” by Otto F. Wahl, Ph.D.

“The stigma attached to mental illness often leads to underestimation, underdiagnosis and undertreatment of mental disorders. A lack of knowledge of causes, symptoms and treatment options of mental disorders in the public and a lack of personal contact with affected individuals can result in prejudices and negative attitudes towards them–and subsequently in stigmatization and discrimination. Human beings suffering from mental illness often are recognized as ‘strangers’. But, social-psychological and philosophical analysis of the recognition of ‘strangeness’ in mentally ill individuals as one of the main predictors for social distance towards them, shows, that the other person only remains a stranger if the available cognitive patterns of interpretation fail. Society must provide the people living in it with the interpretational patterns to take away the recognized strangeness from mentally ill persons and thus making him, or her, an accepted other member.”

-from “Stigmatization, social distance and exclusion because of mental illness: The individual with mental illness as a ‘stranger’” by 

“There is some evidence that the diagnostic label does influence people’s attitudes; students were offered vignettes identical except for the person being described as having cancer or schizophrenia. Those with schizophrenia were perceived as less desirable as a friend and less able to function in the community12. Changing the label changed people’s perceptions and expectations.

People tend to think: ‘Labels bad, no labels good,’ so get rid of labels and there will be no more stigma and discrimination. This is too simple; we cannot just get rid of all labels and psychiatric terminology. A precise language is necessary for clinical communication and for comparison of research results. Certainly people have strong negative expectations of those with conditions such as schizophrenia, but labelling cannot be the whole story. Watch people’s reactions to someone shuffling along the street like a stereotypical ‘chronic psychiatric patient’. Even though the crowd do not know the specific label, the patient is avoided and socially rejected.”

-from “Stigma in psychiatry” by Alison J Gray, MRCPsych


  1. Awareness of stigma goes a long, long way towards overcoming its effects. Both because one gets better at managing/hiding sources of stigma and also because the rightful de-legitimizing of stigma will rob it of its power over you.
    There are inexact parallels with coming out of the closet, because people who are in the closet are consumed by unneeded stigma and they don’t really get to cultivate an awareness of how petty and trivial prejudices really are. Prejudice is rooted in profound ignorance and one should never ever lend any credence to the unfounded beliefs of stupid people.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I took a very enlightening course at IU about the sociology of mental illnesses back in the spring of 1996 (i might be able to find a syllabus for ya). There was much discussion of the role of stigmata which led to the profound realization that however much suffering we all have to overcome, this is a relatively easier task compared to overcoming the completely unnecessary magnification of that suffering caused by simple minded people with knee jerk reactions. Ultimately the path to healthy coping mechanisms consists not just of managing our internal fixes but also managing our external social environment to remove those who would seek to stigmatize us.


  3. Actually I do not “like” this post, because I do not like the stigma of mental illness. It has haunted me for over twenty years now, when I finally was dx’d/labeled, having suffered without a label for twenty years before that. Once I was dx’d and the fact spread throughout my workplace due to some busybodies in Human Resources, I was seen as “less than” and “unreliable.” Ugh.

    Liked by 2 people

    • same, I do not “like” this post, but I acknowledge the point within it. I do think that this stigma is getting less though, and, as I have just put in a post I’ve published, I think it mainly exists still in older generations. The young are so well informed now, I think these stigmas will die out soon..

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Stigmas are all around us. 😦 I think they are tough when it comes to many medical conditions, not just mental. More so with the “invisible illnesses”, which include mental illness, because people think if you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. It is a shame.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Isn’t the real problem with stigma the person who sees others as beneath them?

        We are all human, we all have experiences in life that can teach us something, and doesn’t stigmatizing somebody stand in the way of learning from them?

        PS I found you through Alex’s superb blog.

        Liked by 3 people

      • Not sure how much of it is perceived superiority and how much of it is just fear. The word Sz strikes fear into way too many ppl. I am convinced it is largely b/c people confuse ‘psychotic’ with ‘psychopathic’. Certainly I agree that stigma stands in the way of learning from one another. Glad you noticed me through Alex. Nice to meetcha!

        Liked by 2 people

      • Good morning, it’s nice to meet you, too.

        My experience in the last few years has been that if a person can’t converse, they aren’t going to learn the things they need if they are to be happy in their lives. Stigma is one expression of this inability – and you are right in that it has to do with fear.

        The paradox of fear is that a person fears that which lies all around them, yet the root cause lies within!

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Hehe I am glad I brought you two lovely people together.. I have just published a post on my experiences, or LACK of experience, with stigma surrounding mental illness, and have suggested that this may be because I am usually completely open about my diagnosis and the fact that I have been ill, and this can be quite disarming for the person who otherwise may have indulged in prejudice and stigma. It is fear- but I have found that most people do want to avoid this, and if you are open with them will be respecful back. I have literally never experienced stigma, discrimination or anything similar.. and think this is because I tend to nip it in the bud before it can creep in, and take control of the tone of the conversation. It may feel scary at first, but is the right thing to do and goes so bloody far in dismantling the fear and prejudice which I’m convinced actually only exists within older generations today. But stigma generally is just fear, prejudice and misunderstanding, and mental illness is just one of so many areas which are still prone to it- in time it will all get overturned, as younger generations are more and more informed!

    Liked by 2 people

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