What is stigma?

When someone experiences a mental illness it can be difficult for others to understand what that person may be going through and how they can help.

When we make assumptions about how mental health problems will affect someone's behaviour, this makes it more likely that they will be singled out, or labelled as different, dangerous or strange. This is what we call stigma.

Treating someone differently from how we treat others because of their mental health, whether consciously or subconsciously, is what we call discrimination.

What does stigma feel like?

In a recent Time to Change survey, 9 in 10 young people reported experiencing stigma from others as a result of their mental health problem. They described stigma as feeling:

  • Isolated
  • Shamed
  • Misunderstood
  • Criticised as a person...
  • ... and demeaned.

In fact, many said the stigma they received from friends, family, boyfriends or girlfriends, teachers and even doctors was worse than the illness itself!

I kept my symptoms and my feelings to myself quite a lot because I was scared of the reaction that other young people would have towards me - Charlotte

The fear of stigma can prevent people from accessing the help they need, but can also stop them doing everyday things like hanging out with friends, leaving the house or going to school, college and university. For many people with mental health problems, the fear that they'll be labelled can make them want to give up on their hopes and dreams. Stigma is a serious problem.

When I first was diagnosed with depression four years ago, I had to leave school, and through my friends who were still at the school I heard about people going round and calling me a psycho and saying to my friends ‘oh you shouldn’t be friends with her’ - Bryony

Our infographic shows how stigma can affect a young person with a mental health problem in every area of their life. Click our infographic to see a larger version:

Infographic: 9/10 young people will receive negative reactions to their mental health diagnosis

How can I tackle stigma and discrimination?

Most people have very little knowledge about mental illness and most of what they do know comes from stereotypes presented in the media.

You can help tackle the stigma around mental illness by:

  • Learning more about mental illness
  • Listening to the person’s experiences
  • Being open about talking about mental health
  • Remembering that mental illness is only one small part of the person 

If someone’s got a friend who’s going through a mental health issue then my advice would be to stick by them and be friends and be supportive – Cassandra

Our Children and Young People's Programme is currently running projects in Kent and Medway and in 5 different regions across the UK

Read more about the launch of our recent Children and Young People Pilot Project in The Kia Oval, London on the 5th November 2013.

Download the Children and Young People's programme summary of research and insights (PDF)

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