Let's talk about mental health stigma

At Young Leaders for Health, one of our greater objectives is to encourage future global health leaders to use an interdisciplinary, intercultural and innovative approach. Our mission includes sharing our thoughts with a broader audience, aiming to encourage social change (Young Leaders for Health website, n.d.). What better way to accomplish it, than starting a conversation about mental health stigma.

It is a rather difficult task to precisely define what mental health stigma is, especially if we consider the many different settings in which stigmatization can occur, but also the practical obstacles in measuring it (e.g. a lack of accurate psychometric tests, etc.) (Niedzwiedz, 2019). From what is known so far, stigma can be divided into public and self – stigma.

Public stigma arises when people adopt short-sighted ideas of discrimination and prejudice against people with mental health disorders. A common public stigma example would be the belief that most people with mental health problems are extremely dangerous (Niedzwiedz, 2019).

On the other hand, self-stigma appears when people with mental illness internalize negative stereotypes that society endorses. This may lead to numerous undesirable outcomes for the individual, such as feeling ashamed, lacking confidence and self - worth, and giving up on their life goals, also known as the “why – try” effect (Niedzwiedz, 2019).

It is worth noting that when self – stigma is being reduced, via the help of self - stigma reduction programs, self - efficacy seems to improve, and there is also a more positive effect on the psychiatric symptoms of the individual (Hasan, 2019).

It is well known that welfare systems have a significant impact on the outcome of mental health. They can increase mental health awareness, but at the same time, if not implemented properly, they could lead to adverse consequences, such as malpractice and a general lack of sufficient attention to patients’ health. Interestingly, behaviors linked to stigma, which appear among healthcare providers, can impair communication with the patients, lead to failure to fulfil their medical needs and even cause social discrimination. (Lien et al .,2019).

Due to the continuous efforts from organizations, such as the Opening Minds: The mental health commission of Canada’s Anti-Stigma Initiative, the Time to Change Program by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness in the UK, and many more, to tackle mental health stigma on a global scale, positive results have been shown over the past thirty years and social barriers between people with mental illness and healthcare providers have been reduced significantly (Lien et al., 2019).

Finally, we should not mistakenly suppose that tackling and eventually ending mental health stigma involves only people affected by mental health. It is in everyone's capacity to spread the universal message of equality in health, with our daily effort and actions.

Maria Doulgeraki

Young Leaders for Health


Hasan, A A 2019, Interventions to reduce stigma towards people with schizophrenia spectrum-related disorder: Randomised controlled trial, Asian journal of psychiatry, viewed 5 February 2020, <https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1876201819311220?via%3Dihub>.

Lien, Y Y, Lin, H S, Tsai, C H, Lien, Y J, & Wu, T T 2019, Changes in Attitudes toward Mental Illness in Healthcare Professionals and Students, International journal of environmental research and public health, viewed 2 February 2020, < https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/16/23/4655>.

Mental Health Commission of Canada (n.d.), Opening Minds Website, viewed 15 March 2020, <https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/English/opening-minds>.

Mind and rethink mental illness (n.d.) Time to Change Website, viewed 15 March 2020, <https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/>.

Niedzwiedz, C L 2019, How does mental health stigma get under the skin? Cross-sectional analysis using the Health Survey for England, SSM-population health, viewed 22 February 2020, <https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352827319300849>.

Senior, S L, Caan, W, & Gamsu, M 2020, Welfare and well-being: towards mental health-promoting welfare systems, The British Journal of Psychiatry, viewed 10 February 2020, <https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry/article/welfare-and-wellbeing-towards-mental-healthpromoting-welfare-systems/B91D7FFE08F6D7975BB2A1D9091799D4>.

Sickel, A E, Seacat, J D, & Nabors, N A 2019, Mental health stigma: Impact on mental health treatment attitudes and physical health, Journal of health psychology, viewed 10 February 2020, <https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1359105316681430>.

Young Leaders for Health (n.d.), Mission and Vision, Young Leaders for HealthWebsite, viewed 15 February 2020, <https://www.youngleadersforhealth.org/mission-and-vision>.

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