5 ways to help break stigma around mental health.

Have you ever been feeling sad, and someone tells you to get over it? Have you ever been anxious, and someone tells you to just stop worrying? Have you ever been labelled depressed, bipolar, psycho? Have you ever been told your emotions were a phase? That if you tried harder, it would improve?

It is alarming that if I woke up tomorrow with a disease of the mind, I may be treated differently by those around me, that my employment opportunities may diminish or that I could find it particularly difficult to find affordable and efficient treatment; but if I woke up tomorrow with a disease of the body, I would be surrounded by love and support, with positive attitudes directed toward my recovery and hopes I would be able to live a full and happy life despite my diagnosis.

This is the reality mental illness sufferers go through. This is the stigma associated with mental health. Mental illness has been hard to comprehend for our world, seen by some as something the sufferer can control, something that is self-inflicted, something that is the sufferers’ fault. This weeks’ blog aims to address this as well as give techniques to break the stigma around mental health.


What is Stigma?

Defined as “a mark of shame, disgrace or disapproval which results in an individual being rejected, discriminated against, and excluded from participating in a number of different areas of society”by the World Health Organisation, stigma simply marks an individual as different in a negative way.


Components of Stigma

Stigma consists of three components, which are as follows:

– Ignorance or misinformation, e.g. people with schizophrenia are dangerous.
– Prejudice that leads to emotional reactions, e.g. that’s right, people with schizophrenia are dangerous therefore I fear them.
– Discrimination, e.g. because people with schizophrenia are dangerous, I avoid them.


Types of Stigma

Personal Stigma. An individual’s stigmatising attitudes and beliefs, e.g. people with anxiety could easily just stop worrying.

Perceived Stigma. An individual’s attitude and belief of the stigmatising views of others, e.g. most people believe that people with anxiety could easily stop worrying.

Self-stigma. An individual’s attitude and belief about themselves, e.g. It should be easy for me to just stop worrying.

Structural Stigma. Policies of our government and the cultural norms around mental illness, e.g. mental health doesn’t deserve as much attention as other illnesses as it is self-inflicted.


Elements of Stigma

There are many elements of stigma, but the most common are as follows:

– The perception that an individual is not sick, but instead weak.
– The perception an individual with a mental illness is dangerous.
– The perception an individual with a mental illness is responsible and in control of their mind.
– Feeling guilt, shame and / or embarrassment.
– Concerns about discrimination and harassment, leading an individual to be dishonest about their symptoms, diagnosis and / or treatment.
– An individual’s desire to isolate themselves to protect themselves against discrimination and harassment.

Impacts of Stigma

The impacts of stigma are extensive and on an individual basis, but the most common are as follows:

Personal relationships. Studies have indicated that discrimination is more commonly experienced by individuals suffering with a mental illness by their family and friends in comparison to the wider population. This includes a discomfort to talk about mental health issues, a denial of issues, and / or dismissal of issues. This can lead an individual to lose friends and / or family.
– The stigma and discrimination associated with employment is considered a significant barrier in obtaining or holding down employment for those suffering with mental illness. The stigma associated discourages an individual to disclose their mental illness due to fear of discrimination with recruitment and promotions, as well as a fear of being considered incompetent by their peers.
Access to treatment. Due to the guilt, shame and embarrassment associated with mental illness, many people are reluctant to access treatment. This is extremely detrimental to the health and wellbeing of an individual.


Effective Strategies to Reduce Stigma

So... how can we help break the stigma as individuals starting with 5 simple tips?

Open up. Talking openly about mental illness is the first step we can all take, whether we have suffered from it personally or not. If you have been touched by mental illness, don’t be ashamed to share your story and to encourage others to share theirs. This begins a conversation that instils into our community that mental illness is serious, is nothing to be ashamed about and is something each and every sufferer should be proud of beating every single day.

Educate yourself. As stigma is significantly linked to ignorance and misinformation, it is important to educate ourselves on what mental illness is and how it impacts those around us.

Be conscious of your language. Our words, whether negative or positive, have a significant effect on other people. Studies have shown that referring to those suffering with mental illness with derogatory terms such as psycho, retarded or crazy can bring on stress and shut down the logical and reasoning areas of their brains. We should also avoid statements that undermine or invalidate an individual’s feelings, e.g. “you’ll get over it” as this gives the impression their mental health is not a priority and can inhibit them from reaching out again in fear of being rejected.

Stop labelling. An individual suffering schizophrenia or depression is not a schizophrenic or depressive and this does not define them; they are simply an individual seeking treatment for schizophrenia or depression. Avoiding labels is an important aspect of removing the stigma around mental health. This encourages individuals suffering to see that there is hope for their recovery, that they are more than their diagnosis and that they have nothing to be ashamed of.

Choose empowerment over shame! Empowering those with mental illness to speak up and to make something positive out of their illness will enable other individuals to find that power within themselves, access treatment sooner and tackle their illness head on.


If stigma around mental health is having an impact on you, Self Reflections Psychology is here to help you transition to a healthier, happier mindset. To book, please call 02 4288 4157 or use our online booking portal.

If there is anything you think was important to add into this weeks’ blog that was not included, want to share your story, or if there’s a topic you’d like us to cover, we’d love to hear from you!

Wishing you all a lovely week, from the team at Self Reflections.


This week’s blog was based on information found in the following sources:

National Alliance on Mental Health

Crisis Prevention

Sane Australia

Beyond Blue