What is stigma?


What does it mean to experience stigma against your illness? You might have seen that I talk a lot about stigma on social media and as a result some may be wondering what I mean when I discuss ‘facing stigma’. I have previously discussed stigma on social media here but if you’re still wondering what it means, the dictionary defines stigma as;

‘An association of disgrace or public disapproval with something, such as an action or condition’.


Let’s be real here. To see a dictionary definition of stigma doesn’t really explain what I mean or what myself and many others experience. For as long as I can remember, I have experienced negative reactions against my mental illness and the symptoms that come with said illness. Here are a few examples of what I mean by facing stigma.

Stigma is being told that you look fine so you can’t be poorly. I look able to get out of bed so I must either be faking it or a massive drama queen. To be mocked because I’m ‘on death mode’ again, for people to stop inviting me out because I’m ‘antisocial’. When you feel that constant gut wrenching pull of anxiety, the last thing you need is pressure to socialise. What you need are friends that will still text or call, still make the effort. What you need are friends that will support you.

Stigma is being told your illness isn’t real. Depression and anxiety aren’t the worst mental illnesses and ‘everybody has them’ so I should just get on with it. Mental illness as a whole is a daily battle and comments like these can make that battle so much harder. It can be hard enough to fight the negative thoughts in your head without the world throwing negativity at you. Instead of commenting, maybe ask how somebody is feeling and really listen to their responses, stop denying mental illness and start asking how you can support.

Stigma is being told that mental illness is weak. In fact I can proudly hold my hands up and say I have had a lifelong fight to be where I am today, to fight with your own brain is terrifying. When part of me wants to give up because it is so tired yet the other part of me worries so much of what others think. I worry that much that I leave the house to save face, and spend all day sick to my stomach. Having mental illness is not weak, to battle daily is a very brave thing to do and that would be made a lot easier without being told otherwise. Stop belittling others and start being kind, small acts of kindness go a long way.

Stigma is being told, ‘others have it worse’. If somebody had a problem with their heart, lungs or kidneys, you wouldn’t go and tell them to stop seeking help because ‘others have it worse’. This comparison of struggle is a really dangerous thing and actually mental illness can sometimes require urgent medical help and should never be dismissed. This idea that you can’t be depressed because you have a seemingly good life is ridiculous, anybody of any age, any wealth and any social standing can have poor mental health. Stop this comparison.

Stigma is having your illness used as an insult or punchline. I am tired of hearing ‘God this lecture makes me so depressed, I feel like killing myself. I’m tired of hearing, ‘Oh my god, I’m so OCD’ or seeing T-shirts saying stupid slogans like, ‘stressed, depressed band obsessed’. I’m sick of hearing women being referred to as psychos for showing emotion. This use of illness as descriptive words has to stop, let’s start being kind.

Finally think – why is it as a society we run to help those with a poorly heart, yet run away from those with a poorly brain?  I don’t think all stigma is intentional but we have to start taking responsibility. Stigma kills, it can stop somebody reaching out for help, somebody taking their medication, it can reinforce negative thoughts and it can be the last thing somebody ever hears.

Mental illness is real, it is a daily challenge for many people and it deserves just as much care and compassion as physical illness. Stigma doesn’t have to be a huge cruel gesture, it can also be a flippant comment. Here’s the problem though – these small flippant comments heard continuously start to grow into something much bigger.

To all those that intentionally stigmatise against mental illness, you should be ashamed and let’s hope you never have a personal battle. To all those that may be guilty of some of the things I have listed, with no malicious intent, please just try and be kind. Small kind gestures can save a life.


Remember, it’s not mind over matter, your mind does matter.

Remember its okay to talk x



One Response

  1. Peter
    | Reply

    Hi Andrea. Lovely post, really sums up well what stigma is and the different ways it can hurt people with mental illnesses. It’s important I think to remember the different dimensions stigma has, from people using illnesses as a punchline to being ignored. The one that always hurts me a lot as well is people being told ‘others have it far worse than you’, well yeah maybe they do but how is that going to help me except make it worse as now I feel extra guilt for that!

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