Is Stigma Really That Harmful?

Experiencing mental health stigma is hurtful, but is it really that harmful? Find out how harmful mental health stigma can be at HealthyPlace.

Stigma refers to an experience faced by many different people, including those living with mental health disorders. It happens when someone is judged negatively based on misinformation and characteristics incorrectly believed to be true. Experiencing stigma may mean that someone is excluded, denied opportunities, mocked, avoided, or shunned for reasons that have nothing to do with who they are at their core or all the many strengths and positive attributes they have.

Stigma hurts, but does it really cause actual, life-altering harm? Ongoing research over more than ten years and recently appearing in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology confirms that stigma is indeed harmful, reducing people’s sense of self-worth, increasing distress, and worsening symptoms.

Additionally, stigma has been scientifically shown to be a barrier preventing 35 percent of people experiencing serious mental illness and almost 90 percent of people with substance use disorders from seeking and/or receiving proper treatment. This, in turn, is directly associated with negative mental health outcomes.

An important first step, according to the study authors, is to change the language used when talking about mental illness and the people living with it. So much inaccurate and unscientific terminology is used that it is creating and perpetuating damaging stigma. It’s time to drop derogatory language, slang, and wording that describes people as their symptoms (“depressed” versus “experiencing depression, for example).

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National Institutes of Health. (2019, July). Words matter: Language can reduce mental health and addiction stigma, NIH leaders say. Retrieved from

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APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2021, August 10). Is Stigma Really That Harmful?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 15 from

Last Updated: August 10, 2021

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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