Stigma

 “When I was depressed, it was the stigma and being rejected by others that was even worse than having depression. I would rather have had cancer than depression”.

- Young person with lived experience

Stigma refers to labeling or discrimination against an individual or group of individuals on the basis of observed or presumed mental health difficulties. Mental illness is one of the most stigmatized qualities a person can have in society.1 Stigma often stops people from getting the help they need when they need it most.

A person with mental illness may experience stigma by losing friends and loved ones, having difficulty finding a job or finding limited housing and educational opportunities. They may even stigmatize themselves, believing they are to blame for their challenges and deserve the treatment they receive.2

Stigma can be amplified in youth. It can interfere with education, employment, relationships and health habits, resulting in negative consequences that have the potential to persist for the rest of their lives.2 Nearly 60 percent of youth under the age of 25 who received treatment for a mental illness reported facing stigma, a much higher rate than any other age group.3

What can you do?

The best way to reduce stigma is to encourage age-appropriate exposure to people with lived experience of mental illness. Contact-based education (i.e. having youth interact with someone living with a mental illness) delivered over multiple sessions has been found to positively change attitudes and behaviours among peers towards those living with a menal illness.2

In addition, the language we use to discuss youth suicide can either promote recovery or add to the stigma.4 Language that instills understanding and a non-judgmental viewpoint offers hope to grieving family and community members, who may be reluctant to reach out for help due to stigma.4 Explore the table below to consider what terms are appropriate and what terms should be avoided:5

Avoid Use
  • Committed suicide: This term dates back to the Middle Ages when suicide was illegal and sinful. This presents a particular problem today because it’s also used for criminal offences (e.g. homicide and assault) and suicide is no longer a criminal act in Canada.
  • Successful suicide or completed suicide: A suicide death is a tragedy, not a success.
  • Death by suicide, died by suicide or suicide death: These terms are non-judgmental and consistent with how other types of death are described (e.g. died from cancer, died in a car accident).
  • Failed, unsuccessful or incomplete suicide: These terms aren’t helpful or accurate because they imply that the person who attempted suicide is a failure. In reality, it gives the person the opportunity to get help and hope.
  • Non-fatal suicide, suicide attempt: These terms more accurately and appropriately reflect an attempt that doesn’t result in death.