What is Stigma?
Before we can address stigma, we need to understand mental health.
We all experience emotional ups and downs from time to time caused by events in our lives. But for people who have a mental health condition, these ups and downs can go beyond common emotional reactions. A mental health condition is a medical condition that causes changes in how we think and feel and in our mood.
With treatment, people with a mental health condition can learn to realize their full potential, cope with stress, be productive, and make a meaningful contribution to society.
So What is Stigma?
Stigma is the extreme disapproval of a person or group who is perceived to be different from othe members of a society.
Stigma makes people feel isolated and alone – it creates a barrier between a persons’ desire to seek treatment and actually seeking help.
Stigma also creates a barrier between a person wishing to seek employment, obtain housing and education, and actually following through on those desires. Stigma can negatively affect a person’s self-image.
Break the Barrier. End Stigma. Change Lives.
The barrier of stigma must be broken so that people with mental health issues have an easier time seeking the help they need, feel respected and equal during treatment, and recover.
Breaking the barrier of stigma requires a change in behaviors and attitudes toward acceptance, respect, and equitable treatment of people with mental health problems and mental illnesses.
People in recovery can significantly contribute to breaking the barrier of stigma. Contact with others living with mental health issues is so important.
Tips to Reduce Stigma
1. Know the facts
Educate yourself about what mental illness and addictions is. It’s not a choice, it’s a disease.
2. Be aware of your attitudes and behaviour
We’ve all grown up with prejudices and judgmental thinking. But we can change the way we think! See people as unique human beings, not as labels or stereotypes. See the person beyond their mental illness; they have many other personal attributes that do not disappear just because they also have a mental illness.
3. Choose your words carefully
The way we speak can affect the way other people think and speak. Don't use hurtful or derogatory language.
4. Educate others
Find opportunities to pass on facts and positive attitudes about people with mental health problems. If your friends, family, co-workers or even the media present information that is not true, challenge their myths and stereotypes. Let them know how their negative words and incorrect descriptions affect people with mental health problems by keeping alive the false ideas.
5. Focus on the positive
People with mental health and substance use problems make valuable contributions to society. Their health problems are just one part of who they are. We’ve all heard the negative stories. Let’s recognize and applaud the positive ones.
6. Support people
Treat people who have mental health problems with dignity and respect. Think about how you’d like others to act toward you if you were in the same situation. If you have family members, friends or co-workers with substance use or mental health problems, support their choices and encourage their efforts to get well.
7. Include everyone
In Canada, it is against the law for employers and people who provide services to discriminate against people with mental health and substance use problems. Denying people access to things such as jobs, housing and health care, which the rest of us take for granted, violates human rights. People with mental health and substance use problems have a right to take an equal part in society. Let’s make sure that happens.