menu icon
Search updated

Combating Mental Health Stigma

By Test Therapist MA (Merit) Psychoanalysis

To the ancient Greeks, stigma meant 'mark' or 'brand'. Today stigma indicates disapproval and negative ideas attached to a particular characteristic, condition, lifestyle, or people. People are 'marked' out especially when they are different or other to the majority. People with mental health problems have historically been stigmatised. This detrimental and discriminatory behaviour still exists today.

"Stigma (sti·gmã). 2.b. A distinguishing mark or characteristic (of a bad or objectionable kind); in Path. a sign of some specific disorder, as hysteria 1859". (1). 


Stigmatisation in action

Words which once had neutral descriptive meanings as psychiatric conditions such as 'cretin', 'imbecile''maniac', 'lunatic', and 'spastic', now have detrimental meanings. Mental health practitioners abandoned using these words to help free people with mental health problems from the detrimental meanings. But negative ideas about mental health still exist in society. These ideas still produce stigmatising language. Changing the names of mental health conditions has not been enough to combat mental health stigma. Having a mental health condition is distressing. Being stigmatised for it by others adds to the distress. Labelling someone a 'schizo' describes them as an illness rather than a person with an illness: imagine calling someone with a tumour a 'cancer'. When people think it is 'all in the mind' they may be less sympathetic. When people say to a depressed person 'pull yourself together' or the person thinks they are 'weak' it may hinder them seeking appropriate help. Of course, people have the right to call themselves what they like, but generally, none of us like being labelled by others.

What can be done to decrease stigma?

Fear of the unknown, fear of contamination, and sometimes fear of death can make people avoid those with mental health conditions. Negative ideas go unchallenged. As physical illnesses became understood the stigmas surrounding them decreased. People with mental health conditions remain vulnerable to stigma. It therefore seems important to understand mental health conditions, as increased understanding appears to be associated with less, not more stigmatisation. What can be done to combat mental health stigma:
  • Challenge negative ideas and prejudices in ourselves and others 
  • Stop using stigmatising language 
  • Increase our knowledge and inform others
  • Advocate improved autonomy, involvement in society, and legal protection for mental health patients.


(1). Little, W. Fowler, H.W. Coulson, J. Onions, C.T. Friedrichsen, G.WS.,(1986), The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles: Volume II Marl-Z and Addenda. Clarendon Press. Oxford.

This content remains the copyright of the author and may not be reproduced without their prior permission in writing.

Other Articles by Test Therapist:

Stressed? Learn to Relax
Here are two relaxation techniques. With practice, and used overtime, they can help you...

Freud and Ferenczi on Transference Love
  This paper is on transference love from the perspectives of both Sigmund Freud and Sandor Ferenczi. Firstly, a consideration of the work of Freud on transference love is taken from a selection of his papers written between 1910 and 1919. This will...

Freud on Transference
INTRODUCTION ‘The Dynamics of Transference’ (Freud 1912), addresses the origin of transference. It explains how transference necessarily emerges in analysis and how it both aids, and hinders (as resistance), the recovery of the analysand. ‘Remembering, Repeating...

How Freud Arrived at the Origin of Anxiety
The problem of anxiety was constantly present for Freud throughout his work on the neuroses...

Looking for a Therapist?

Browse for therapists by topics related to this article:
Clientele: Individuals
Therapy Type(s): Counselling, Psychotherapy, Psychology