When someone appears to be different than us, we may view him or her in a negative stereotyped manner. Stigma is a reality for people with a mental illness, and they report that how others judge them is one of their greatest barriers to a complete and satisfying life.
Society feels uncomfortable about mental illness. It is not seen like other illnesses such as heart disease and cancer. Due to inaccuracies and misunderstandings, people have been led to believe that an individual with a mental illness has a weak character or is inevitably dangerous.
One in five people in Ontario will experience a mental illness at some point in his or her lifetime. Mental illness affects people of all ages, in all kinds of jobs and at all educational levels.
Due to stigma, the typical reaction encountered by someone with a mental illness (and his or her family members) is fear and rejection. Some have been denied adequate housing, loans, health insurance and jobs due to their history of mental illness. Due to the stigma associated with the illness, many people have found that they lose their self-esteem and have difficulty making friends.
The stigma attached to mental illness is so pervasive that people who suspect that they might be mentally ill are unwilling to seek help for fear of what others may think. Spouses may be reluctant to define their partners as mentally ill, while families may delay seeking help for their child because of their fears and shame.
We can battle stigma when we have facts. No matter how people develop mental illness, there is usually some form of support available that will help them to improve their health and lead a productive life. The support of family, friends and employers is also critical.
(Adapted from the Canadian Mental Health Association)