What is Stigma?

What is stigma

What is stigma?

People with mental illness put up with a lot more than their illness. Stigma contributes another major stress they can well do without. Many say that stigma and prejudice is as distressing as the symptoms themselves.

Most often stigma against people with a mental illness involves inaccurate and hurtful representations of them as violent, comical or incompetent – dehumanising and making people an object of fear or ridicule.


Stigma in the media

When this stigma occurs in the media it can be in the form of reports that refer to inaccurate stereotypes, sensationalise issues through unwarranted references to mental illness, misuse medical terminology, or use demeaning or hostile language.

Stigma in the media is especially harmful because the media plays an important role in shaping and reinforcing community attitudes.


Say No To Stigma

Watch SANE Australia’s Say No To Stigma video series to hear how stigma can affect people with mental illness and their carers.



What is the harm of stigma?

Some of the most harmful effects of stigma occur when it alters how people view themselves, also known as self-stigma.

Self-stigma is the acceptance of prejudiced perceptions held by others. This can lead to a reluctance to seek treatment, excessive reliance on others, social withdrawal, poor self-worth and it may also lead to abuse of alcohol and drugs.

The winter edition of SANE News reported on the tragic consequences of self-stigma. Download this free magazine to read more about self-stigma.


What is the difference between stigma and discrimination?

Stigma is considered to be an opinion or judgement held by individuals or society. If these prepositions are acted upon, these actions may be considered to be discriminatory.

Discriminating against someone at work, denying access to education, accommodation, entry to a premises, membership of a club or association, or the provision of services, is unlawful under the Disability Discrimination Act,1992.

For more information about the act or to make a complaint about discrimination, visit the website of the Australian Human Rights Commission.



Find out more

SANE Australia has developed a number of resources that explain the history and effect of stigma, exploring what is being done to combat harmful attitudes towards people living with a mental illness.

A Life without Stigma is a major report from SANE Australia detailing the harm done by stigma, best practice in reducing it, and recommendations for action in Australia.

The SANE StigmaWatch Report is an in-depth review of the program's history and evolution. The report shows how media reporting has improved, while highlighting the areas that require further attention or campaigns.

The SANE Guide to Reducing Stigma is designed to help you in the fight against stigma in the media - promoting more accurate, fairer and respectful coverage of mental illness. The guide provides practical information and advice on how to respond to inappropriate reporting in the media.