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How mental health stigma can stop you from getting help

Having a mental health condition isn’t unusual. In fact, it’s estimated one in five Australians aged 16–85 experienced a mental health disorder in the previous 12 months.[1] Despite this, mental health stigma is prevalent. One study found that three quarters of respondents had experienced mental health stigma.[2]

What is mental health stigma and what are some ways to overcome it to get the help you need?


What is mental health stigma?

Mental health stigma comes in many forms. It can relate to lack of knowledge (ignorance), attitude to mental illness (prejudice) or behaviour (discrimination).[3]

According to an Australian community survey, many people have a reasonable level of understanding about depression and anxiety. However, many have less understanding of mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

This lack of knowledge may mean people’s attitudes to these disorders aren’t as positive. They might believe stereotypes that a person is dangerous or weak. This unfounded belief can lead to discrimination[4].


What are some examples of mental health discrimination?

Examples of stigma around mental illness in Australia can be widespread in your life. According to a Wesley Mission survey[5], participants reported mental health stigma and subsequent discrimination in these areas:

  • Getting insurance such as life or health insurance
  • Either not getting a job or being discriminated in their current job
  • Discrimination by key decision makers
  • Being labelled as a ‘problem child’ at school
  • Police
  • Hospitals
  • Being misrepresented in the media
  • Being shunned or abused by the community
  • Mental health staff blaming clients for their behavioural problems
  • Family rejecting them or blaming them for their condition.


How can mental health stigma impact you?

When you’re discriminated against, you don’t experience life as you should. The impacts can be profound and long lasting.

If you are constantly being taken out of class, you might not get the education you need.

You might not get the promotion you deserve so you earn less money.

It can affect your health in the future if you don’t get timely access to healthcare.

Another area of stigma is called ‘self-stigma’, which can be equally disabling. This means you believe you are of less value and will be discriminated against. This fear of rejection means you may be more reluctant to go out, get a job, socialise or take part in your community[6].

It can also mean you may not ask for help when you need it, either from health professionals or from your friends and family.


What should you do if you’re experiencing mental health stigma?

Everyone can help reduce mental illness stigma. If you or someone you know is experiencing stigma, there are some things you can do.

  • You can speak out about stigma and dispel myths. If you feel comfortable, you can talk about your condition and educate people about how their discrimination is harming you.
  • You can report any stigma you see in the media through SANE’s StigmaWatch
  • If you see or experience discrimination at work, you can speak to your manager, health and safety representative or the human resources department. You can also lead by example by using the correct terminology.

You should also make sure you don’t avoid getting treatment. It is your right to access health and mental health care and no one should stop you from getting the help you deserve.


If you need to talk to someone about mental health stigma, our CAREinMIND counsellors are available 24/7 on 1300 096 269 or click the floating chat button on the right. The service is free for people in north, western and central Melbourne and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.



[1] AIHW Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2020) Mental health, AIHW, Australian Government

[2] SANE Research Bulletin 4: Stigma and mental illness (January 2007) issn 1832-8385

[3] Thornicroft G, Rose D, Kassam A, Sartorius N. Stigma: ignorance, prejudice or discrimination? Br J Psychiatry. 2007 Mar;190:192-3. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.106.025791. PMID: 17329736.

[4]  The Wesley Report, Living with mental illness: Attitudes, experiences and challenges (Number 2 July 2007)

[5]  The Wesley Report, Living with mental illness: Attitudes, experiences and challenges (Number 2 July 2007)

[6] SANE Australia 2013. A life without stigma: A SANE Report.