Stigma vs. Discrimination
A stigma refers to negative, unfavourable attitude about a given subject and the behaviour it produces. Stigma differs from discrimination. Discrimination is unfair treatment of a a person due to a person's identity, race, ancestry, place of origin, color, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability including mental disorders. It is a form of prejudice that spreads fear, misinformation, labels individuals and perpetuates stereotypes. A stigma against people with mental illnesses is oppressive and unfortunately it prevents many from seeking the help they so desperately need.
Stigma is everywhere in our lives. Some 60 million Americans - about 20% of the population - live with a mental illness. Every week it is estimated that over 4 million Americans miss work for psychiatric reasons. Despite being so common, mental illness continues to be met with widespread stigma: in hospitals, workplaces and in schools; in cities and small communities too. It occurs around the world, unconfined by culture or national borders.
People experience stigma as a barrier that can affect nearly every aspect of life - limiting opportunities for employment, housing and education, often causing the loss of family and friends. It is also very difficult for someone with a mental illness to not start to believe the stereotypical comments. This is known as self-stigma. Many myths and misconceptions contribute to stigma - often times perpetuated by the media. News articles are frequently portraying people with mental illnesses as violent and aggressive when in truth, those living with a mental illness are much more likely to be victims of acts of crime, hate and discrimination.
Reducing stigma requires a change in societal behaviour and attitudes - attitudes towards acceptance, respect and the equitable treatment of people living with mental illnesses. Perhaps most important is for people to understand that having a mental illness is not a choice and recovery, with the right treatment and support, is possible if we can eliminate stereotypes, stigma and discrimination!