Stigma and Discrimination

If more young people were able to talk more openly about mental health, stigma and discrimination would be reduced. In this section, learn more about stigma and discrimination.


Stigma and Discrimination

Young people say they are often not taken seriously by adults when it comes to mental health and lots of us feel uncomfortable to speak out about our worries for fear of the consequences.  And that is where stigma starts.

Sometimes, it's hard to understand what's going on in our head or be able to explain how we are feeling. But for some 'coming out' about their mental health problems can be really empowering and improves our confidence and how much we believe in ourselves.  

We all have things we want to do in our lives, so we need to end stigma and discrimination to stop negative attitudes holding any of us back.

Self Stigma

Self stigma means that we start to believe some of the bad things that we hear about a diagnosis we have.

Anyone with mental health problems can start to believe what is being said about their illness from what others say publicly. 

Self-stigma happens as a series of stages:

  • Awareness
  • Agreement with stigma
  • Believing the negative things we hear could be about ourselves
  • Doing things that hold us back, like isolating ourselves.

It can lead us to believing we aren't capable of things like, doing well at school, going onto further education, getting a job or making friends. This can result in withdrawing, feeling frustrated, angry, experiencing low self esteem and lack of confidence in the future.

But stigma and discrimination is unfair, and it is wrong. If you are feeling like this, then make sure you find someone you trust to speak to.

We all have the right to lead a fulfilled life and people who intimidate others or make them feel worthless need to be challenged.


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

Prejudice can also create emotional responses such as fear or anger towards the people who are being stigmatised. These judgmental attitudes help to create negative stereotypes which can have a major impact on someone who experiences mental health problems. These attitudes can make people feel worse about themselves and slow down or stop people's recovery recovery. This is not fair.



Discrimination is when someone treats you unfairly because of your mental health.

Examples of discriminatory behaviour:

  • Not having your problems taken seriously by adults, for example, being told you're too young to have depression
  • Being called names by your friends because you're struggling
  • Not being invited for a job interview because of mental health problem
  • If your doctor doesn't take you seriously, including dismissing physical health conditions, due to mental health history
  • Harassment, intimidation, name calling, humiliation, degradation

This is the kind of behaviour that we need to stop.  By speaking up and speaking out we can change attitudes and lives. 

Rebecca's Story

My experience started at a young age. My dad was in the military so that involved a lot of moving around and changing, often leaving friends and family.

This lead to me being nervous about any change, which then turned into a more intense fear of change. After that I was diagnosed with anxiety and panic attack disorder.

It wasn’t easy to speak about it for a long time. I could speak to a few selected people, some very close friends and family. But outside of that, with my wider friend group, or employers, it was much harder to speak.

I have lost a lot of friends because I couldn’t go out, or I couldn’t meet up. Before I was unwell I was really active all the time, then I fell off the face of the earth. People just thought I was a bad friend.

I think that if people were more knowledgeable and had an understanding of what is actually happening to someone it would help. I didn’t know what was happening to me. I was never taught it, I was never warned what it would feel like.

Panic attacks and anxiety was a breaking point for me. I had literally no idea what was going on in my head and my body, so how would anyone else be able to understand? We could all do with better understanding. We also need more people to talk about it. When I was younger it wasn’t spoken about, it was taboo and avoided. More people need to feel open to asking how someone is and be okay if they get a negative answer. People will ask, but they just want to hear you’re fine.

From my experience, I don’t think young people are taken seriously at all when it comes to mental health.

I was 16 when I first reached out for help and the reaction I got from the doctor was awful. I was told the reason I felt how I did was because I was just stuck in a routine and playing everything up in my head. She told me that I shouldn’t book another doctor’s appointment, just changing my routine and exercising more would fix it.

I felt it was useless trying to speak to anyone, I wasn’t taken seriously at all. More needs to be done to help kids be taken seriously.

But there was a positive thing to come out of this, I decided that if the help wasn’t there then I could be it. So I decided to study psychology, which I’m doing now as I want to be a child psychologist. I thought if they can’t do it right, I can do it.

But the whole thing made dealing with life more difficult than it needed to be.

Stuff to read, watch and share

Check out what our volunteers recommend to read, watch and share, to help when you're struggling.

Stuff to read, watch and share