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Stigma and Discrimination

People with mental health conditions often face stigma and discrimination, which can be detrimental to their lives. Stigma involves negative stereotypes, while discrimination is unfair treatment based on one’s identity, including mental illness. This discrimination can be overt or systemic, violating the right to equal treatment under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Stigma leads to negative stereotypes, and discrimination is the resulting behavior. People with mental illness may experience multiple layers of discrimination based on their illness and identity. Media and entertainment often perpetuate harmful stereotypes, portraying individuals with mental health conditions as dangerous, while positive stories are scarce. These negative attitudes can lead to bullying, denial of housing, insurance, and employment, lower self-esteem, and reluctance to seek help.

To combat stigma and discrimination, use person-first language that focuses on the individual, not their condition. This language helps reduce stigma and facilitates access to support for those facing challenges.

Use the STOP criteria to recognize attitudes and actions that support the stigma of mental health conditions. It’s easy, just ask yourself if what you hear:

  • Stereotypes of people with mental health conditions (that is, assumes they are all alike rather than individuals)?
  • Trivializes or belittles people with mental health conditions and/or the condition itself?
  • Offends people with mental health conditions by insulting them?
  • Patronizes people with mental health conditions by treating them as if they were not as good as other people?

If you see something in the media which does not pass the STOP criteria, speak up! Call or write to the writer or publisher of the newspaper, magazine or book; the radio, TV or movie producer; or the advertiser who used words that add to the misunderstanding of mental illness. Help them realize how their words affect people with mental health conditions.

Start with yourself. Be thoughtful about your own choice of words. Use accurate and sensitive words when talking about people with mental health conditions.

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