About stigma and discrimination

It’s quite likely that one day you, one of your friends, colleagues or family members will experience a mental health problem. Yet mental illness is still surrounded by prejudice, ignorance and fear. The attitudes people have towards those of us with mental health problems mean it is harder for them to work, make friends and in short, live a normal life.

What effect does stigma have?

Making friends, holding down a job, keeping fit, staying healthy… these are all normal parts of life. But the stigma that surrounds mental illness makes all these things harder for people who have mental health problems.

Stigma isolates people. People often find it hard to tell others about a mental health problem they have, because they fear a negative reaction. And when they do speak up, the overwhelming majority say they are misunderstood by family members, shunned and ignored by friends, work colleagues and neighbours.


Stigma excludes people from day-to-day activities. Everyday activities like going shopping, going to the pub, going on holiday or joining a club are far harder for people with mental health problems. What’s more, about a quarter of people with a mental illness have been refused by insurance or finance companies, making it hard to travel, own property or run a business.

Stigma stops people getting and keeping jobs. People with mental health problems have the highest ‘want to work’ rate of any disability group – but have the lowest in-work rate. One third report having been dismissed or forced to resign from their job and 70% have been put off applying for jobs, fearing unfair treatment.

Stigma prevents people seeking help. We know that when people first experience a mental health problem they tend not to seek help early and tend to come into contact with mental health services only when a crisis has developed. 

Stigma has a negative impact on physical health. We know that people with mental health problems tend to have poorer than average physical health and their physical health problems are often misdiagnosed. As a result, people with the most severe mental health problems die on average ten years younger. 

How widespread is stigma?

Despite attitudes about sexuality, ethnicity and other similar issues improving, and despite some improvements since the launch of Time to Change, discrimination against people with mental health problems is still widespread.

The Stigma Shout survey that we carried out at the beginning of Time to Change showed that almost nine out of ten people with mental health problems (87%) reported the negative impact of stigma and discrimination on their lives. 

The research also showed that the way family, friends, neighbours and colleagues behave can have a big impact on the lives of people with mental health problems.

Man running

“I try and openly talk about my experiences, though that does bring laughter and ridicule sometimes.” Read Alan’s blog >> 

How can I help?

You can help us create a society where mental health problems are not hidden in shame and secrecy. You can ensure your friend or relative is not afraid to speak out about their problems, or is left wondering where they can turn for help.

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