“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
- 1. Heflinger, C., & Hinshaw, S. (2010). Stigma in child and adolescent mental health services research: Understanding professional and institutional stigmatization of youth with mental health problems and their families. Administration and Policy in Mental Health Services Research, 37, 61-70.
- 2. a. b. c. Mental Health Commission of Canada. (2012). Changing directions, changing lives: The mental health strategy for Canada. Retrieved from: https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/English/resources/mhcc-reports/mental-health-strategy-canada.
- 3. Jorm, A. & Stuart, H. (2012) Building better practices targeting youth. Oral presentation. Together against stigma: Changing how we see mental illness. A report on the 5th international stigma conference. Ottawa, Canada. Retrieved from: http://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/English/system/files/private/document/stigma_opening_minds_conference_book_eng_0_0.pdf.
- 4. a. b. Winnipeg suicide prevention network. (n.d.). A guide for early responders supporting survivors bereaved by suicide.
- 5. Ball, B. (2009). The Ontario Association for Suicide Prevention: The Power of Words: The language of Suicide. Retrieved from: http://ospn.ca/index.php/about-oasp/news/190-the-power-of-words-the-language-of-suicide.