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Stigma and Discrimination
and its Impact on Mental Health Service Users

"Not only do the public not understand people like me who are mentally ill but there is also a lot of stigma which makes people's lives - including mine - quite hard."
HUG Member

Despite the fact that approximately one in four Scots will experience mental health problems at some time in their lives, people affected by mental illness experience daily discrimination in all aspects of their lives, from employment to housing, health care to daily community interaction.

Research consistently shows that people's attitudes on mental health cause unfair treatment, social exclusion and isolation on the part of people with mental health problems.

Uninformed or distorted ideas can mean that colleagues and employers, mortgage and insurance providers, health professionals and other service providers discriminate unfairly against people with mental health problems. But even closer to home, the attitudes of neighbours, family, friends and partners can also cause hurt and damage.

To compound the issue, the rejection, misunderstanding and discrimination that people with mental health problems experience often in themselves have a serious effect on their mental health. In fact, one survey showed stigma as the single most negative influence on the lives of people with mental health problems.


The stigma of mental illness has been highlighted in almost every report produced by HUG. Over the last few years the HUG Communications Project has been trying to challenge this as we firmly believe that:

  • Stigma is caused by ignorance and fear.
  • People can react to the unpleasantness of mental illness by avoiding or feeling awkward about people with mental health problems.
  • Many people with a mental illness can feel embarrassed and ashamed about it.
  • Many professionals can feel helpless when faced by people with a mental illness.

Examples of stigma experienced by HUG members included being forced to hide the fact they had been admitted to hospital, employers looking for reasons to turn someone down for a job once they knew the person had a mental health problem, kids throwing stones, being told to 'go away to the loony bin', and family members hiding/denying mental illness in the family.

'I felt like I had horns on me and everyone was looking at me'.

Effects of Stigma on HUG Members

HUG members spoke strongly about the effects of stigma on their lives:

'Once you have been ill it is like a shadow over you for ever more'
'Feeling of being useless'
'Makes you doubt your capabilities - you can't do the things you used to be able to.'

Many people spoke about being forced to hide, and even lie, about the fact they had a mental illness, particularly if looking for employment. Some people felt angry that they should be stigmatised for the pain they have experienced and what they have had to go through.



Highland Users Group
Tel: (01463 723560)) — Email:





About Stigma