1.2 Stigma and discrimination
People who suffer from mental health problems often find that the causes of their distress do not lie within them but can be found in the situations in which they find themselves. For example, poor housing on noisy estates where the person feels isolated is more likely to lead to mental health problems than a well-supported home in a quiet and friendly environment. Today, being subjected to prolonged stress from work and the other demands made on people is a major cause of mental health problems.
Traditionally, people have tended to see others with mental health problems as being different. The result is that those with mental health problems have become cut off from the ‘normal’ social life that most people take for granted, such as good employment opportunities and wide social networks. This can also lead to two particularly damaging consequences: people with mental health problems can experience stigma and discrimination.
Due to stigma, people with mental health problems are disapproved of. They are not seen as a person in their own right, but only as having a mental illness. Stigma can make their mental health problems worse because it isolates them, and consequently the mental health problems are harder to recover from. It is the mental illness that other people see and not the person. In this way people with mental health problems are also discriminated against.
Discrimination is the harmful treatment of an individual or group of individuals because of a particular trait or characteristic. Although the Disability and Equality Act 2010, which applies across Great Britain, explicitly forbids any form of discrimination, people with mental health problems might still experience indirect discrimination. For example, they might be excluded from sports clubs on the grounds that they do not fit in or excluded from up-market shopping centres where their presence or appearance offends consumers. They might also not have their mental health considered when they are at work; for instance, being exposed to stressful situations or meeting unrealistic targets.