You probably know what birthmarks are. They are marks on the skin of newborns that become visible before or right after they are delivered.

These marks cannot be erased. You’ll have them with you until you grow old. So, how are these marks related to self-stigma? What is self-stigma in the first place?

Stigma is defined as a mark or stain of shame. If a birthmark is visible, a stigma is an invisible mark. Simply put, self-stigma is a mark of shame that you put on yourself. No one else can see this mark of shame except for you.

Self-stigma in people is identified as one of the most significant challenges in mental health, as it affects various aspects of life. More than half of the individuals with mental health problems associated with self-stigma are not treated.

Individuals who have mental illnesses experience self-stigma. You have low self-esteem and self-efficacy. Because of this, you don’t have the drive to reach your life goals.

But does it have to be this way your whole life? No. This article will discuss what self-stigma is and how to overcome it.

Types of Stigma

According to the APA (American Psychiatric Association), despite the active anti-stigma campaigns for mental illness, it is still rampant nowadays.

Expectations of rejection, perceived devaluation, and discrimination are some of the fears of individuals with mental illness. These negative attitudes by the general population may have implications for self-esteem, which has to stop.

Persons with mental disorders need professional psychiatric help, but they avoid this because of self-stigma. There are so many unmet needs of individuals who have a mental illness.

There are different types of stigma. These are:

1. Stereotypes

This is defined as a permanent and generalized idea about a particular group of individuals. When you are stereotyping, you conclude that a person with certain qualities and abilities will have the same set of characteristics as everyone in their group.

An example of stereotyping is when you associate motorcycle riders with a big physical built, leather clothing, long hair, tattoos, and drinking beer all day.

Stereotyping simplifies society for people. You no longer need to think long and hard when you meet someone new. Thus, stereotyping eventually leads to prejudiced attitudes.

2. Prejudice

Prejudice is the irrational and unjust opinion or feeling about a person without giving enough thought or less knowledgeable information. Prejudiced individuals encourage negative stereotyping, which could influence negative reactions from others.

Prejudice is related to conformity. Individuals who don’t fit into society’s definition of “normal” are likely to fall victim to prejudice.

A famous example of prejudice is from the book Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. The female protagonist formed a personal and negative opinion about the male protagonist with less information at hand.

Elizabeth Bennet influenced the others around her based on her own prejudice against Mr. Darcy. They, too, thought poorly of the male protagonist because of what the heroine said about him. But everything ended well in the end. Sadly, instances of prejudice don’t always have a happy ending in real life.

3. Discrimination

Discrimination is considered the most violent among all types of stigma. It is the behavioral type of public stigma where a person acts negatively and violently toward a group of people.

What is the difference between prejudice and discrimination? According to the study of Corrigan PW, the ability to differentiate between public stigma and self-stigma are important to distinguish between discrimination and prejudice.

Corrigan PW stated that a prejudiced person has prejudiced thoughts towards a group of people. Their opinion could influence others but would not do anything physical to harm them. In contrast, discrimination would encourage others to take action against a group of people and cause them harm.

After understanding the public stigma of mental illness and the differences between stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination, you now know the damaging effects people with mental illnesses receive from others.

4. Self-Stigma or Internalized Stigma of Mental Illness

People with mental illnesses living in culturally devaluing environments and with constant negative stereotypes may develop self-stigma or self-devaluation, low self-esteem or self-efficacy, and poor self-concept.

People with mental illness may resign to describing themselves as ending up’ like what other people with that mental health problem have. This is not true because everybody heals and deals with it differently.

For example, people with mental illness may be embarrassed or ashamed for others to know that they’re seeing a mental health care professional because of the public stigma. Furthermore, people with mental illness may blame themselves for having the mental health problem and that it has ruined their life, which is not true.

Stigma, Self-Esteem, and Self-Efficacy

When you talk about self-stigma and mental disorders, you also have to consider the Modified Labeling Theory. According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), the Modified Labeling Theory of Mental Illness is when a person diagnosed with a mental illness iswrongly labeled by society, which can foster negative feelings in the individual.

Simply entering a psychiatric doctor’s clinic is a perceived stigma of having a mental health problem. Negatively labeling a person will lower their self-esteem and self-worth.

Aside from the labeling theory, understanding the “why try” effect will further explain stigma and self. The “why try effect” is related to self-stigma because it affects a person’s self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is a person’s self-confidence that they can carry out a task successfully.

An individual with a severe mental illness may have low self-efficacy and will not pursue independent work and life opportunities. This leads to poor quality of life.

If you have internalized the stigma of mental illness, you will try to avoid situations where you will be at a disadvantage. You don’t want to be ridiculed publicly. This is called social avoidance.

Stigma and Mental Health Care Services

At present, mental health services have three principles. These principles are societal reintegration, community inclusion, and recovery. All these three have one common goal.

Stigma harmfully affects the person’s goal attainment. The objective of mental health services is for the person to develop self-determined goals to better their well-being and mental health.

The goals are designed according to the person’s interests, whether they are physically and mentally able or not. These interests can range from education, housing, health and wellness, relationships, and religion.

Management of Self-Stigma

Not everyone who has a mental illness agrees with the stigma. Some may accept it and let it affect them in an unhealthy way, while some may question and go against the stigma.

Those who accept and agree with the stigma will suffer greatly and will have reduced self-esteem and efficacy. Those who are against the stigma will be angry, stand up for what is right, and be non-stereotypical.

Empowerment improves a person’s quality of life and recovery from serious mental illness. It brings high self-esteem, self-orientation, and social support.

People who set goals for themselves despite their mental illness will most likely have a positive future. They are more energetic and are hopeful for the success of their treatment.

Self-Empowerment is the Main Goal

The stigma will not go away. It will always be there whether or not you have a mental illness. The goal is for you to develop self-empowerment to better your chances of recovery and a bright future.

For treatment, it is important to determine the best care provider for you. When you look at help-seeking care, you should know both formal and informal sources of care. 

  • Formal help-seeking care is primarily provided by professionals such as psychiatrists, counselors, or therapists.
  • Informal help-seeking care is the one you get from family members and friends.

There is a negative association between formal care and stigma because persons with mental illness avoid being seen entering the clinics. They also feel that there is a self-stigma reduction in informal care because family members, friends, and non-medical individuals are not judgmental. 

Many feel obligated to seek help and support. However, some people find informal care devaluing because this could start rumors and more stereotyping.

The individuals who are more inclined to seek formal care are women, older people, educated individuals, and divorced or separated couples. Men, younger people, uneducated people, and married or cohabiting couples prefer informal care.

Empowerment: Stigma and Mental Illness

Self-stigma is prevalent in whatever age, religious belief, ethnic group, or socioeconomic status a person may have. Self-stigma decreases your self-esteem, desire for treatment, and quality of life. Also, it increases the likelihood of developing severe symptoms and suicidal thoughts.

If you are living with someone who is mentally ill, educate yourself. They are human beings who are going through a hard time.

If you understand their condition, you become more compassionate towards them. You should encourage empowerment over shame. They deserve to get better and don’t deserve the humiliation.

If you are living with mental illness, don’t feel hopeless. Do not let other people become your barrier to recovery.

You may experience discrimination from the people around you, but being able to come out and let everyone know about your condition is worth it. When you accept your condition, that’s the time you allow yourself to get treated. Your healing starts when you put your well-being above what others may think of you.

Challenge the Stigma

Challenge the stigma. Do not hide your mental illness. Don’t keep your treatment a secret. Don’t let the mental illness stigma get the best of you.

The only journey that is worth taking is the journey within you. Your journey need not be lonesome and shameful.

Remember that you are not the first to walk down this road. Many have gone before you and have reached the end of the road with a renewed spirit.

It is wonderful and comforting to know that you are not alone in the struggle. Kentucky Counseling Center (KCC) is your companion as you walk through your journey toward treatment and recovery. KCC offers professional help that can provide you with the right itinerary for life, so book an appointment now.

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