Stigma – Facts & Myths About Mental Illness


What is Stigma?

Stigma is made up of two parts: negative and unfavorable attitudes, and negative behaviours that result from those attitudes. People living with a mental illness often experience stigma through:

  • Inequality in employment, housing, educational and other opportunities which the rest of us take for granted
  • Loss of friends and family members (the social and support network)
  • Self-stigma created when someone with a mental illness believes the negative messages

Stigma is a major barrier that prevents people with mental health issues from seeking help. Many people living with mental illness say the stigma they experience is often worse than the illness itself.
A McGill University researcher has found that almost 40% of news articles about mental illness focus on danger, violence and criminality and only 12% of articles take an optimistic tone.  That is stigma.
“The media has considerable influence on shaping public opinion,” says Micheal Pietrus, director of the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s Opening Minds program. “Negative depictions of mental illness in the media can play a role in perpetuating stereotypes and misconceptions.”

 Myths About Mental Illness and the Facts  

A number of myths have lead to misunderstandings about mental illness preventing many people from seeking and getting help when they need it.

• People with mental illness are violent and dangerous. Not true. People with mental illness are no less apt to be violent that any other segment of society. Rather, people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence.
• People with mental illness are less intelligent. Not true. Many studies show that people with mental illness have average or above average intelligence.
• Mental illness is caused by a character flaw or personal weakness. Not true. Mental illness is the same as a physical illness caused by genetic, biological and environmental factors.
• Mental Illness is a single, rare disorder. Not true. It is not a single disease but a broad classification for a range of disorders.