Understanding Mental Health Stigma and Discrimination

Mental health problems can be hard for anyone to cope with but it can be made worse by having to deal with stigma and discrimination from others.

More than half of people with mental health problems in Scotland have experienced stigma and discrimination. People told us they most commonly experience it from the people closest to them, friends, family and work colleagues. Asking for help is not easy either, the most common place people experience stigma and discrimination is in GP practices.

“Discrimination is placing barriers to achieving what everyone else is allowed to. Denying someone the opportunity to flourish in life, friendships, relationships, career and their place within their own community.” John

We also know that 37% of people in Scotland have witnessed someone experiencing stigma or discrimination because of a mental health problem.

To be able to tackle it, we need to know what it is, and what it can look like.


“The negative attitudes or beliefs based on a preconception, misunderstanding or fear of mental health”

An example might be someone incorrectly thinking that all people with mental health problems are dangerous because they have seen it in a film or in the news.


“When a person performs an action, whether intentional or unintentional, that creates barriers and inequality for people with lived experience of mental health problems.”

An example of this is not inviting someone for a job interview based on disclosure of a mental health problem.

Types of Stigma and Discrimination 

Self Stigma

Self-stigma is the judgement people put on themselves, which has often come from hearing and seeing external stigma and discrimination.  

It can lead people into believing that they aren't capable of things such as getting a job, or going into further education. This can result in them withdrawing, feeling frustrated, angry, experience low self esteem and lack of confidence in their future. As a result many are at risk of defeating their own personal goals and ambitions. 

Stigma by association

Someone connected to people with mental health problems, e.g family member or friend who experience stigma as a result of this association

Structural stigma

When the rules, policies, and practices of social institutions restrict the rights of, and opportunities for, people with mental health problems


Prejudice is when people form an opinion before becoming aware of and understanding the relevant facts.

Prejudice can also stir up emotional responses such as fear or anger towards the people who are being stigmatised. These judgemental preconceptions endorse negative stereotypes which can have a major impact on someone who experiences mental health problems. These attitudes can have a major impact on people's lives - making them feel bad about themselves