What is Stigma?

The word stigma has been around for hundreds of years. Stigma is a sign or mark of social unacceptability. People begin to label, look down on, or criticize a person for a characteristic or problem they have. Often, a stigma emerges because of false information or negative stereotypes surrounding an issue, situation or person. These negative stereotypes often come from the media, generations of misunderstanding, and a lack of knowledge.

Effects of Stigma

People who have a mental illness can face stigma. Fears of being judged or seen as weak often prevent people who have a mental illness from getting help. Once diagnosed with a mental illness, people may feel embarrassed or ashamed. It is important to remember that a mental illness is no one’s fault and can be treated. There are many genetic, biological, and environmental factors which predict mental disorders.

Mental Illness in the Media

People experiencing a mental illness are often depicted as scary, dangerous or unstable in TV, movies, videos and even books. News stories sometimes highlight a person’s mental illness to gain more interest, even if the illness is not relevant to the story.

You can help change the way mental illness is talked about in the media by speaking up. Use the STOP criteria to recognize attitudes and actions that support the stigma of mental illness. It’s easy! Just ask yourself if what you hear:

Stereotypes people with mental illness (for example, assumes they are all alike rather than individuals)?

Trivializes or belittles people with mental illness and/or the illness itself?

Offends people with mental illness by insulting them?

Patronizes people with mental illness by treating them as if they were not as good as other people?

If you see something in the media that does not pass the STOP criteria, speak up! Call or write to the author or publisher of the newspaper, magazine or book; the radio, TV or movie producer; or the advertiser who used words that add to the misunderstanding of mental illness. Help them realize how their words affect people with mental illness.
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Fast Facts about Mental Illness

Who is affected?

  • Mental illness indirectly affects all Canadians at some time through a family member, friend or colleague.
  • 20% of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime.
  • Mental illness affects people of all ages, educational and income levels, and cultures.
  • Approximately 8% of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives.
  • About 1% of Canadians will experience bipolar disorder (or “manic depression”).

How common is it?

  • Schizophrenia affects 1% of the Canadian population.
  • Anxiety disorders affect 5% of the household population, causing mild to severe impairment.
  • Suicide accounts for 24% of all deaths among 15-24 year olds and 16% among 25-44 year olds.
  • Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in both men and women from adolescence to middle age.

What causes it?

  • A complex interplay of genetic, biological, personality and environmental factors causes mental illnesses.
  • Almost one half (49%) of those who feel they have suffered from depression or anxiety have never gone to see a doctor about this problem.
  • Stigma or discrimination attached to mental illnesses presents a serious barrier, not only to diagnosis and treatment but also to acceptance in the community.
  • Mental illnesses can be treated effectively.

How does it impact youth?

  • It is estimated that 10-20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder – the single most disabling group of disorders worldwide.
  • Today, approximately 5% of male youth and 12% of female youth, age 12 to 19, have experienced a major depressive episode.
  • The total number of 12-19 year olds in Canada at risk for developing depression is a staggering 3.2 million.
  • Once depression is recognized, help can make a difference for 80% of people who are affected, allowing them to get back to their regular activities.
  • Mental illness is increasingly threatening the lives of our children; with Canada’s youth suicide rate the third highest in the industrialized world.
  • Suicide is among the leading causes of death in 15-24 year old Canadians, second only to accidents; 4,000 people die prematurely each year by suicide.
  • Schizophrenia is youth’s greatest disabler, as it strikes most often in the 16 to 30 year age group, affecting an estimated one person in 100.
  • Surpassed only by injuries, mental disorders in youth are ranked as the second highest hospital care expenditure in Canada.
  • In Canada, only 1 out of 5 children who need mental health services receives them.