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Mental Health Stigma: Prejudice That Becomes Discrimination

Mental health stigma is a prejudice and act of discrimination that can single-handedly dictate how your life will turn out – if you let it. Read this for more.

Mental health stigma is a prejudice that turns into discrimination. It’s an ugly, six letter word that can single-handedly dictate how your life will turn out. Stigma can mean the difference between getting that dream job, or remaining unemployed. Between loving a partner, or remaining single. It can also mean the difference between remaining in hiding or coming out of the mental illness closet.

If you have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, you may believe that you have to face the rest of your life under a veil of secrecy. I make that assumption because for nearly fifteen years, I felt the exact same way and told hardly anyone that I lived with mental illness. I’ve learned that even though stigma has the ability to take control of one’s life, it is ultimately what we do with it that matters.

What Is Mental Health Stigma?

Everyone who has dealt first-hand with the stigma around mental illness likely has a working definition in their mind, but the people at The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health sum it up quite nicely.

Stigma refers to negative attitudes (prejudice) and negative behavior (discrimination) towards people with substance use and mental health problems.

Mental health stigma knows no bounds and is constantly on the move. Stigma is in the workplace or in the classroom. It can interfere with making friends and can even interfere with keeping friends. But since stigma has to begin with a negative attitude or prejudice, if we can lessen the prejudice, we should in theory be able to lessen the discrimination.

Mental health stigma can single-handedly dictate how your life will turn out – if you let it.People fear what they don’t understand. And let’s face it, mental health has only recently begun to even be an acceptable topic of conversation. Unfortunately, for many, it is still a topic that sends shivers down spines but it doesn’t have to stay that way. By talking about it, we normalize it. I have a feeling that, eventually, people will understand.

I never told any friends, coworkers or even romantic partners that I had been hospitalized against my will for over four months for drug-induced psychosis. I never told them that I was once again hospitalized for several months for major depression. Why? Because of stigma.

Self-Stigma, Self-Prejudice and Self-Discrimination

But just how much of that mental health stigma was created in my own mind? Because now, I’m open and honest about my history and life couldn’t be better.

It feels great not having to create convoluted stories to mask the several years of my life spent in psychiatric chaos. I no longer have to fill my resume with white lies to cover the times spent in the psychiatric hospital.

Everyone is different and everyone should come out about their own mental health issues at the right time for them and, preferably, with proper support. But for me, the time is now and my only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.

The Completely in Blue website is here. Chris is also on Google+, Twitter and Facebook.

28 thoughts on “Mental Health Stigma: Prejudice That Becomes Discrimination”

  1. Stigma and discrimination can have real life consequences. They prevented me from having a ‘career’. In Australia Disability Employment services are manditory for dole recipants who have a mental illness, but most of the staff are not trained in mental health. I suffered from the soft bigotry of low expectations, discrimination and coerced disclosures. I have given up having a career as such and now do volunteer work.

    I have known two cases of bullying from mental health organisations because of a person’s mental health issues, and many workers who are consumers are expected to overwork because otherwise they might lose their job. If there isn’t even safety in workplaces where staff have training what hope do the rest of us have?

    I frequently disclose my illness now because often I just don’t give a dam what people think anymore in the most part, but I have friends who won’t use support groups or even discuss mental health for fear of being tarnished.

    The only thing I fear now is that my children (who are not born yet) may face discrimination due to my disclosure.

    The best advice I can share is if you want to be open about your illness as you have every right to be, go to support groups and join the consumer movement that way you make friends with people who won’t bail because of mental illness even if other people do. Most of my friends are consumers who are intelligent and empathetic human beings

  2. Thanks for the post Chris.
    The unfortunate reality is that the stigma is still very real, even within healthcare professions, which in itself is beyond discouraging.
    I have been a medical equipment repair technician for 16 years. I had suffered with migraines for years, when in early 2013, I had a migraine that lasted for 3 weeks. I became suicidal, and admitted myself to a psychiatric ward at a hospital affiliated with the one I worked in.
    After I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, they began building their case to terminate.
    Once diagnosed, the long and arduous process of trial and error to find the right combination of meds and treatment began. For that year, I lived in a fog, at times oversleeping, accidentally taking the wrong meds, being put on meds that altered my abilities so much, that I was scared to try and drive myself to work. Every mistake I made, while doing my best to be a proactive participant in my recovery, was held against me.
    I was terminated for absences, when I had fewer absences than their policy states are grounds for termination.
    I believe had I been untruthful about my diagnosis, I would still have my job. But, my relationship with God is far more important to me than any job. I know He’s allowed these events so that I can help others in similar circumstances in the future.

    So, now I’m looking for a job, and deathly afraid potential employers will find out about my diagnosis.

    Thanks again for the post.


  3. Yes, being out has its benefits, but being honest with the wrong people can cost you your job. In certain industries if you reveal that you have a mental health issue you can will be black listed – nursing is a good example. People have gone crazy with being out and open about their private health information to the point it is scary. What about those of us who are not comfortable with the world knowing our private business? Are we to be stigmatized for being private with our lives? I have seen a change with society over the past 13 years since 9/11. I want my privacy and I believe it is my right to have it. I have lost two jobs because “word got out.” This blogger, I believe, lives in a fantasy world. It is going to take a tidal shift to end stigma and it is no where near. I was in a psychology workshop yesterday with psychology students. Schizophrenia was mentioned in regards to an teenager with it. The young man, when having an attack and off his meds would always take to brandishing a machete. His parents did not know what to do on one faithful occasion and called the police. The police put, if I recall correct, 4 or 5 bullets in him – he is dead. Ending the stigma around mental health is going to take more than just people telling the world about their private business. It is going to take on going education and people receiving proper treatment without fear of being out(ed). I am attempting nursing school. I am over half way there and I can tell you that stigma among young people is still extremely strong. I live in fear of being found out. Being too honest with some people can cost you EVERYTHING. Sad, but all so true.

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