Stigma, Discrimination and Mental Health

Everyone judges, you have to admit it! Even if you try your hardest not to, at some point you will. Imagine going to see your doctor to talk about you feeling anxiety or depression, and they tell you not to sweat the small stuff and that you’re overreacting. How would you feel? Would you go to another doctor for advice? How would you feel being judged based upon a diagnosis?

Many people who have a mental health illness suffer from stigma and discrimination, from family, media, society and even from those who are there to help them, their doctors, nurses, and social workers.

Mass media shapes public opinion, whether for the good or bad. Unfortunately media, in all it’s forms has made mental illness synonymous to violence, and something to be feared, through negative images, headlines and movies.

Here are some real life stories, taken from CAMH Cross Currents, Journal of Addiction and Mental Health:


  • “It is difficult to describe the nature of the stigmatization and discrimination because it often works in subtle ways. In my experiences, the feeling of being silenced has always been indicative of a form of oppression. There were many psychiatrists who inquired about my diagnosis, before they even asked for my name or age. A number of psychiatrists even refused to take me on as a patient based on my diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. This diagnosis was eventually changed to borderline traits, which seemed to produce less hostility and fear by health care workers. These encounters perpetuate stigmatization and further perpetuate the cycle of self-stigmatization.” – Toronto, Ontario


  • “After a long battle of trying to find appropriate medication for severe depression, I finally “gave up” and “gave in” to the suicidal ideation I had been experiencing and seriously overdosed.When I was admitted to the intensive care unit, the first words of the ICU nurse who eventually came to see me were, “You may wonder why it took me so long to come and see you. We spend all our time helping people who are dying and want to live; we really don’t have much time for people who want to die.” All she did was confirm my belief that I was so worthless that the whole world would be better off without me.After surviving the most gruelling night of my life, I was feeling so full of shame, but I knew I would never attempt again. A different ICU nurse came in and asked me what had happened. I sighed, and told her that I had had two post-partum depressions and wanted to have a third child and “get it right,” but I miscarried at 17 weeks. The nurse responded, “That must have broken your heart.” I said, “Yes, my heart is truly broken.” It meant so much to me that she actually understood.She then said, “You’re going home today. Would you like me to wash your hair for you?” That simple offer of help as I went to “face the world” after what I had done suggested that maybe I did have some dignity and worth after all. It did so much to lessen the stigma and shame I felt. That was more than 10 years ago. I don’t know her name to thank her, but I will never forget her kindness.” – Ottawa, Ontario


You can also check out:

Mental Health Myths?!

Opening Minds Project

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