The stigma of mental illness remains a stubborn problem for those seeking recovery. Public stigma prevents people from achieving rightful life goals: for example, employers buying into the stereotypes choose not to hire people labeled “mentally ill;” landlords decide not to rent to them.
Self stigma — internalizing these stereotypes so people believe themselves unworthy or unable — leads to a “why try” effect. “Why try seek a job? Someone like me can’t handle it.”
Unfortunately, stigma does not seem to be improving despite evidence that the Western world is more educated about causes of mental illness than any time in history.
Contact is an effective approach to stigma change. “Contact” involves people with lived experience sharing their illness, recovery, and accomplishments to strategically-targeted groups including employers, landlords, police officers, health care providers, legislators, and faith-based community leaders. This means people need to disclose their experiences with mental illness and the health care system — come out, as it were — a courageous decision given the prejudice and discrimination it risks.