Patrick Corrigan, Psy.D.

The Stigma Effect

The Stigma of Mental Illness Is a Major Hurdle to Recovery

Stigma is as a great barrier for people with mental illness as their symptoms.

Posted Nov 12, 2018

Mental illness strikes with a two-edged sword. On one side is the harmful effects of symptoms and disabilities that prevent people from achieving personal goals. On the other is the egregious effects of stigma, the prejudice and discrimination of a community that blocks personal aspirations. The impact of stigma is not trivia and shows itself as public or self-stigma. Public stigma occurs when employers who agree with the prejudice about people labeled with mental illness do not hire them. Landlords won’t rent to them. Health care providers offer substandard treatment. This kind of discrimination is similar to the kind of injustice experienced by African Americans because of their race, women because of their gender, and elderly citizens because of their age.

From Public Domain Archive
Stigma does not stop the person from being whole.
Source: From Public Domain Archive

Self-stigma occurs when people internalize prejudice causing diminished senses of self-esteem and self-efficacy. In turn, this leads to the “Why Try” effect. Why should I try to get a job; someone like me isn’t worth it? Why should I live alone; someone like me is not able? The opposite of self-stigma is personal empowerment. People who believe they have authority over their life are less likely to internalize stigma. This means all decisions about one’s life goals and corresponding treatment are made by that person, not by some authority. Mental health systems should be led by hope and aspirations. 

This is the first of many posts on the harmful effects of stigma and on ways to replace it with attitudes of recovery and self-determination. Many of these ideas are worked out in my most recent book, The Stigma Effect: Unintended Consequences of Mental Health Campaigns.