In a Huffington Post article, law professor, author and MacArthur “genius grant” recipient Elyn Saks asks, “Why is mental illness still so stigmatized?” She answers her own question this way:

People who wouldn’t dream of saying a racial or ethnic slur glibly talk about nut cakes, lunatics and crazies. Perhaps they stigmatize the mentally ill because society always marginalizes people who are different. Or people may blame the person, not realizing that mental illness is a no-fault brain disease that you can’t just will away. Then again they may feel unconsciously that they are to blame. Finally, people may have an unconscious fantasy that mental illness is actually contagious — so one must stay away. (Saks, 2011)

Stigma is a social construct or a shared assumption formed to explain things that people do not understand. Stigma associated with mental health conditions is, like other stigmas, based on myths, misunderstandings, misconceptions and ignorance. Stigma is not inherent to people with mental health conditions; it is not a symptom of an illness, and it is not an attribute of any person. Rather, it is externally imposed, and can be foisted unfairly on anyone identified as having a mental health condition. People with more serious and disabling conditions most often experience the brunt of stigma.

Negative social characterizations and images promote exclusion of people who are considered different from the normal patterns and benefits of daily life. Stigma gives false credibility to prejudice, which leads to discrimination in friendships, education, jobs, housing and community participation.

Stigma has a profound and very negative impact on people with mental health conditions. Its consequences are potent and harmful.

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MAMH Perspective

Stigma arises from ignorance and persists when people lack sound knowledge and personal experience with those who have and recover from mental health conditions. MAMH fights against stigma to project positive and realistic images and descriptions of people with mental health conditions. Our multi-year campaign against stigma has included direct challenges to stigmatizing images and media depictions and ongoing efforts to educate the public and the media about damaging misconceptions.