Stigma, discrimination & mental health

Stigma; “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular
circumstance, quality or person”
Synonyms: shame, dishonour, disgrace, humiliation
Oxford Dictionary

It is estimated that 1 in 5 Australians have a mental health disorder and some 4.3 million Australians received mental health-related prescriptions in 2018-2019.

The personal burden of having a mental health disorder can be twofold, coping with the mental, physical and emotional exhaustion. Not knowing what or when you are going to be triggered and how that is going to affect you. Maybe it is that hollow pit of anguish and dread, churning around and around in the very core of your being, swirling as your heart beats faster and faster until it is beating at such a rapid rate that you think it may well jump right out of your body. Possibly it is that plunge into the depths of darkness and despair, the feeling of total numbness and paralysis. Not only having to deal with how this is impacting on your ability to function as a human and go about your daily business is hard enough to deal with, but add to that the negative attitudes, behaviour and discrimination on a social, professional and sometimes personal level, can you even begin to think just how that feels, how that affects a person day in and day out?

Yet despite the increase of mental health promotion and advocacy, stigma is still inhibiting people from pursuing treatment, thus contributing not only to their own anguish but also to their own risk of increasing comorbid conditions that are related to mental health disorders.

According to Merriam-Webster;

“social stigma refers to extreme disapproval of (or discontent with) a person or group on socially characteristic grounds that are perceived, and serve to distinguish them, from other members of society.’

Self-stigma can arise when a person with a mental health diagnosis, internalises the public/social stigma, this then leads to further lowered self-esteem, fear of social rejection increased shame, a tendency to self-isolate and difficulty in reaching out and getting help.

Discrimination can rear its ugly head in the most unlikely of places. From the common phrases “snap out of it” or “it’s all in your head” to having to hide the dark bleakness and despair that is depression from your workplace, your peers, friends and family members, being told to cheer up, stop crying or even told to hide your medications away!

Does this seem extreme or make you feel uncomfortable?

Sadly, for many women and children, this is all too often the “reality” of life.

Clinical depression is commonly associated with pathophysiological changes such as; absence of energy, insomnia, decreased appetite, feelings of worthlessness and suicidal ideation.

Many women may have lived for years thinking that it is “normal” to feel this way, that there must be something wrong with them and they should just get on with it and carry on. Conditions such as chronic pain, depression and insomnia are often involved in a constant vicious cycle.

Historically people with mental health diagnoses have been discounted, rejected and generally viewed as being “different”, erratic, volatile or unpredictable. Subsequently, due to this archaic belief, barriers can and do exist both socially and professionally. Passed over for promotion, loss of hours due to being “unstable”, the list is endless and unacceptable.

This has to stop, as a society the more open, integrated and aware we are, the stronger we are as a community. Ongoing campaigns and education and more resources to begin breaking down the barriers to this global phenomenon.

“The experience I have had is that once you start talking about it [mental health issues], you realise that actually you are part of quite a big club...” Prince Harry (2017)

Hankir, A., Zaman, R., Geers, B., Rosie, G., Breslin, G., Barr, L., … Anderson, S. (2017). The wounded healer film: A London college of communication event to challenge mental health stigma through the power of motion picture. Psychiatria Danubina, 29, S307–S318.

Holder, S. M., Peterson, E. R., Stephens, R., & Crandall, L. A. (2019). Stigma in Mental Health at the Macro and Micro Levels: Implications for Mental Health Consumers and Professionals. Community Mental Health Journal, 55(3), 369–374. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10597-018-0308-y

Maranzan, K. A. (2016). Interprofessional education in mental health: An opportunity to reduce mental illness stigma. Journal of Interprofessional Care, 30(3), 370–377. https://doi.org/10.3109/13561820.2016.1146878

Martínez-Hidalgo, M. N., Lorenzo-Sánchez, E., López García, J. J., & Regadera, J. J. (2018). Social contact as a strategy for self-stigma reduction in young adults and adolescents with mental health problems. Psychiatry Research, 260, 443–450.

Mental Health Related Prescriptions. (2020).

Copyright © Samantha Lluisé of Lotus Womens Health 2021

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