Before you judge me, walk a mile in my shoes

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:

1. shame

2. blame

3. hopelessness

4. distress

5. misrepresentation in the media

6. 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

1. nearly 1 in 4 of people felt depression was a sign of personal weakness and would not employ a person with depression

2. around a third would not vote for a politician with depression

3. 42% thought people with depression were unpredictable

4. one in 5 said that if they had depression they would not tell anyone

5. 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:

1. learn and share the facts about mental health and illness

2. get to know people with personal experiences of mental illness

3. speak up in protest when friends, family, colleagues or the media display false beliefs and negative stereotypes

4. offer the same support to people when they are physically or mentally unwell

5. don’t label or judge people with a mental illness, treat them with respect and dignity as you would anyone else

6. don’t discriminate when it comes to participation, housing and employment

7. 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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