What Is Stigma?

What is stigma? Read about the definition of stigma, the meaning of stigma, and learn how people with mental illness define stigma.

What is stigma? People coping with mental illness have a lot more to deal with than just the disorder itself. Many people report that the stigma of mental illness, and the prejudices they encounter because of it, is nearly as bad as the disorder’s symptoms themselves.

Definition of Stigma

According to the Webster’s New World Dictionary, the short definition of stigma is, “a mark of disgrace or reproach.” Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, Ph.D. offers this definition of stigma, “Stigma is a perceived negative attribute that causes someone to devalue or think less of the whole person.” Given these two representations for the meaning of stigma, anyone can see that stigma, of any kind, is a deeply negative mindset and provides no value to society in general.

People with mental illness represent, perhaps, one of the most deeply stigmatized groups in American culture. Many of the over 46 million Americans who suffer from some type of mental health disorder may describe and define stigma using one of these words or phrases: hate, discrimination, prejudice, fear-inducing, humiliating, hurtful.

The True Meaning of Stigma

Truly, the meaning of stigma boils down to discrimination and hate. People with mental illness feel diminished, devalued and fearful because of the negative attitude society holds toward them. As a result, people struggling with mental health challenges may not get the help they need for fear they’ll be discriminated against.

What Is Stigma?

The following scenario may help answer the question, “What is stigma?” Imagine you have breast cancer. Now imagine that instead of NFL football players supporting your illness by wearing sneakers with pink cleats and pink logos on their jerseys, society blames you for your illness. Imagine others looking at you with accusing eyes and whispering about you behind your back when they find out you have breast cancer. Imagine feeling fearful of seeking proper medical help because you’re afraid you’ll lose your job if anyone finds out about it.

People with mental disorders must cope with this type of stigma on a daily basis. But why should they? Mental illness is a disease just like cancer. No one wants to develop cancer. No one wants to deal with mental illness either. But millions of Americans do have a mental illness. Let’s work together to stop the stigma.

APA Reference
Gluck, S. (2019, October 23). What Is Stigma?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 25 from

Last Updated: October 23, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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