Reducing Stigma

Have you ever felt left out or judged by people because they thought you were different from them? Perhaps you felt misunderstood, embarrassed, alone, or even afraid? That is what stigma may feel like.

What is stigma?

Stigma is a set of negative beliefs and prejudices about a group of people, as well as negative behaviors towards groups of people. Many people face stigma because of their race, religion, gender, sexuality, economic situation, and a variety of other things.

How does stigma affect people?

Did you know that 46% of Canadians thought people use the term mental illness as an excuse for bad behaviour?

People living with mental illnesses often face stigma. This occurs when people do not understand mental illnesses, and as a result treat people living with mental illnesses as outcasts or dangerous. This type of stigma can make people living with mental illnesses feel ashamed, hopeless, stressed, or that they are to blame for their illnesses. This makes it hard for people to reach out for help or accept help. Nearly two-thirds of all people with mental disorders do not seek treatment. It's important to remember that mental illnesses are like other health conditions; they need proper treatment and support. The sooner someone gets help, the better the outcome will be.

How can you help reduce stigma? 

To start, you can think about your own beliefs. Do you have stereotypes and prejudices about mental illnesses? Do you judge people with mental illnesses?
Additionally, you can think about the words you use in everyday conversations. Be mindful of words such as "crazy" or "psycho," as they can hurt people with mental illnesses and make them feel afraid.

As well, you can learn more about mental health, mental illness and addictions from trusted source like the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Mental Health Commission of Canada, and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. This will help you understand more about what people living with mental health challenges and illnesses feel, and provide you with information on how best you can support.

Myths that increase stigma

Ever heard something questionable about mental illnesses and thought it was true? Assuming certain things about a person's mental illness is the main reason for stigma. Here are a few truths to help clear the air about mental illness:

Myths About Causes

Myth: Mental illnesses are caused by witchcraft, spells, possession by demons, or are a result of punishment by a “higher power.”

Truth: Mental illnesses are the result of disturbances in usual brain function that lead to difficulties with the control of feelings, thinking, and behaviors.

Myth: Mental illnesses are caused by food that we eat.

Truth: Rare vitamin deficiencies can be associated with some symptoms, but the foods we eat do not cause mental illnesses.

Myth: Mental illnesses are the result of a “moral failure” or laziness.

Truth: Sometimes people with a mental illness can have severe fatigue or lack of interest as part of the illness, but these are not the cause.

Myth: Mental illnesses are caused by the usual stresses of everyday life.

Truth: Everyday life stresses are normal and necessary for learning and developing life skills, but they do not cause mental illness. However, people who experience severe stress for extended periods of time without help or support have an increased risk for developing a mental illness.


Myths About People

Myth: People with a mental illness are violent.

Truth: Mental illness rarely leads to violence, and most violence is not due to mental illness. People with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence.

Myth: People with a mental illness cannot achieve.

Truth: Sometimes a mental illness can make it difficult for a person to work, just like a physical illness would, but with proper treatment a person can work very well. Some of the world’s greatest achievers have had a mental illness.

Myth: Mental illness is a sign of personal weakness.

Truth: Mental illness is a brain disorder, and not a personal weakness.

Myth: People with mental illness could snap out of it if they wanted to.

Truth: People with mental illness may often feel embarrassed, or that they are inferior to others. They experience low self-esteem and low confidence. This self-stigma makes the healing process much more difficult. Many steps need to be taken to treat a mental illness.

Myths About Treatment:

Myth: Treatments for mental illnesses are “common sense,” and everyone knows what should be done.

Truth: Treatments for mental ilnesses are based on scientific evidence, not people’s opinion about what works.

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