What is “Stigma”?


A person who is stigmatized is a person whose social identity, or membership in some social category, calls into question his or her full humanity—the person is devalued, spoiled, or flawed in the eyes of others.

— Hebl & Kleck (2002), a definition currently having “high consensus among social psychologists,” advanced by Crocker, Major and Steele.



A Vision of Breaking the Stigma:


I have a vision that goes like this: In this new century, mentally ill people will have the science, the organized voting strength, and the means to leave our ghettos of isolation behind us. We will finally join with the mainstream community, where we’ll be able to live as individuals and not as a group of people who are known and feared by the names of our illness. — “The day the voices stopped: A memoir of madness and hope”


Stigma Facts:

  • Stereotypes are one of the largest barriers preventing young people from seeking the help they need. (Borchard, Therese J., September 2, 2010, Statistics About College Depression. Retrieved from PsychCentral website,
  • According to one survey in the United States, even after five years of normal living and hard work, an ex-mental patient was rated as less acceptable than an ex-convict. (“Consequences of Stigma,” Family and Friends Section , from, March 2011)
  • “American researchers examined how attitudes of people toward depression, substance abuse and schizophrenia have changed over a 10-year period. The study found that the percentage of people attributing major depression to neurobiological causes rose from 54 percent to 67 percent, and support for seeking treatment increased. However, they found no decrease in stigma or social rejection toward those disorders, and in some cases saw an increase in rejection” (esperanza, Fall 2010, p. 10).


The criminalization of mental illness…

  • In 2000: “The Los Angeles County jail has been identified as the nation’s largest mental institution, housing more individuals with mental illness than state psychiatric hospitals in the area.” (Mowbray, Carol T. & Holter, Mark C. (March 2002). Mental health and mental illness: Out of the closet? [39 pages] Social Service Review. [Online article], quoting Geller, 2000, p.24. Available
  • In 2014: The Cook County jail (Chicago) identified itself as the nation’s largest mental institution, with “approximately 2,500 to 3,000 people with diagnosed mental illness housed in the jail on any given day … Sheriff Dart has received many awards from national and local mental health advocacy organizations for his push to end what has become a de facto criminalization of mental illness.” (, Home – Sheriff’s Biography)
  • “If violence is the main cause of the stigma, our failure to address it simply ensures that stigma will continue indefinitely.” (Torrey, E. Fuller, 2002. Stigma and Violence. Psychiatric Services 53 (9), p. 1179.)
  • On violence vs. individuals with severe mental illness: “If we choose to avoid all persons with similar odds-ratios for violence, we would have to stay away from teenagers, males and grad school graduates.” (Corrigan, Patrick W., Watson, Amy C., & Ottati, Victor, 2003. From whence comes mental illness stigma? International Journal of Social Psychiatry 49 (2), 142-157, p. 146).
  • Mental illness does not increase a person’s tendency to commit serious violence; in fact, people with serious mental illness are 11 times more likely to be the victims of violence (widely published).