The Effects of Stigma on Individuals with Mental Illness

Most people tend to have stigma towards individuals who suffer from mental illness. Why is that the case? What are the effects of stigma on this specific group?

In today’s society, stigma towards individuals with mental illness is largely prevalent particularly towards individuals who suffer from mental illness. Stigma can be categorized into: 1) Enacted Stigma and 2) Self-Stigma. Enacted stigma occurs when individuals with stigmatising conditions experience damaging responses as a result of interactions with the community. Self-stigma occurs when the individual diagnosed with a psychological disorder have adverse beliefs about themselves due to their mental condition.

Enacted stigma on individuals with psychological disorders occurs as they are perceived as dangerous in the eyes of society. In a survey done in Nigeria, 82.7 % of the respondents indicated that they were worried about interacting with individuals who were diagnosed with a psychological disorder, and 96.5 % of them agreed that individuals who were diagnosed with psychological disorders were dangerous.

Results from a representative sample from a US study conducted in 1996 showed that when compared to a similar group in 1950, respondents were 2.5 times more likely to agree with the view that individuals who were diagnosed with psychological disorders were more dangerous. This suggests that the public fear of psychological disorders has been on the rise for the past decades.

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Stigmatisation is largely driven by the human need to feel like they belong within a community. When this need to belong is denied or hindered in certain ways, it can cause an individual to feel socially isolated, resulting in stress and even the development of depression.   

It is argued that the severity of the psychological disorder is positively associated with the degree of stigmatisation. Results of surveys on patients with history of mental illness from 27 countries stated that they have experienced high levels of discrimination. This study further shows that 29 % of the participants felt discriminated against when attempting to secure employment, and 47 % felt discrimination in everyday social activities.

As individuals with psychological disorders are not included in social interactions most of the time due to the enacted stigma, their leisure and social functioning may be impeded. As a consequence, they may experience a lower quality of life. Another impact of enacted stigma is that individuals may not share the information of having a psychological disorder because they do not wish to receive the negative effects of enacted stigma.

Even if they had shown signs of improvement from their illness, it has been argued that the impact of social rejection following the enacted stigma may be reduced by concealing the psychological disorder. This is one of the ways enacted stigma can lead to non-compliance with the treatment, poor retention in treatment, and treatment avoidance.

Various research studies report that stigma has damaging influence on the self-esteem of individuals who are diagnosed with psychological disorders. The results from earlier studies found evidence indicating that self-esteem is moderately strong correlated with enacted stigma. However, in more recent studies, researchers found evidence that damaging self-esteem experienced by mental health patients tends to be correlated with self-stigma.

In a study that follows the same group of participants for several years, Link and his colleagues found that individuals who were diagnosed with psychological disorder tend to experience social withdrawal due to anticipated rejection as well as devaluation-discrimination, which are the two important features that form self-esteem. Link and his colleagues conclude that many individuals who are diagnosed with psychological disorders would eventually believe that they have nothing or little to be proud of and are worthless.

In addition to that, subsequent research found evidence that there is a negative correlation of self-stigma scores with empowerment and self-esteem. Thus, not only self-stigma can lower one’s self-esteem, but also produce the depressive symptoms and feelings of inadequacy. Individuals who are diagnosed with psychological disorder may be reluctant to access mental health services as they are worried of being categorised as those with weak personality.

Now, knowing the negative effects of stigma have on individuals with psychological disorder, how can we as a member of the society help them?

We can help them tremendously by firstly seeking more information about their condition. Having more information about certain conditions of mental illness can influence us to reduce the fears and uncertainties around individuals with psychological disorders. Not only that, it will help us interact with them more effectively. It also reduces negative perceptions about seeking preventive measures such as seeking psychological treatment.

Source: Pexel

Although we are still far away from being a community where everyone is highly aware, there are many ways in which we can seek information about mental illness. By educating ourselves, such as being aware of what psychological disorders are and how we can help others who suffer from them, as well as by adopting a more accepting worldview, we can significantly reduce stigma in our society. Only then can we hope to develop and evolve as a society.


Reference list

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Bruce G. Link, Elmer L. Struening, Sheree Neese-Todd, Sara Asmussen, & Jo C. Phelan. (2001). Stigma as a Barrier to Recovery: The Consequences of Stigma for the Self-Esteem of People With Mental Illnesses. Psychiatric Services, 52(12), 1621-1626. doi:

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Thornicroft, G., Brohan, E., Rose, D., Sartorius, N., & Leese, M. (2009). Global pattern of experienced and anticipated discrimination against people with schizophrenia: A cross-sectional survey. The Lancet, 373(9661), 408-415. doi:

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Currently working as the Support Coordinator and Mental Health Support Worker at the Mental Health Foundation at the Australian Capital Territory, Khairul received his masters degree in Cognitive Behaviour therapy from Flinders University, Australia and his undergraduate degree majoring in Psychology and Philosophy from the Australian National University.

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