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Mental Illness and Stigma and the Role of a Social Worker in Curbing Stigma

Definition of Terms

Mental Illness

According to the World Health Report, Clinically, substantial impairments in cognitive functioning, emotional management, or behavioral functioning define mental disorders (Ahmedani, 2011). It is common for people to experience discomfort or a decline in critical areas of functioning as a result. Distinct mental illnesses exist. Conditions affecting one’s mental health can also be considered mental disorders.


Stigma refers to the practice of treating someone differently because of a defining trait, like a mental disease, health problem, or impairment, that elicits negative feelings in the minds of the general public (Pinfold et al., 2003). Stigmas in society are not limited to gender and sexual orientation; they can also be based on factors like color, religion, and even an individual’s cultural background.

A person’s method of thinking about and talking about his or her own mental state is referred to as “self-stigma,” and the phrase describes this way of thinking and talking (Ahmedani, 2011). There is a correlation between self-stigma and undesirable outcomes such as not seeking help, experiencing feelings of helplessness, having less confidence in one’s own talents, and having a lower quality of life. To put it another way, public stigma can be defined as the pervasive prejudice, fear, and misunderstanding that society members have toward individuals with mental illness (Corrigan et al., 2012). There is a connection between public stigma and perceived stigma. Perceived stigma can be described as an individual’s thinking well about the attitudes of others towards mental illness.


As already defined above, the term “stigma” refers to the manner in which individuals treat one another differently due to the presence of one or more characteristics that are regarded as or are a liability (a negative stereotype). Unfortunately, persons battling mental health issues face widespread stigma and discrimination, making it challenging to obtain help and understand one’s situation. One of the outcomes that may result from stigma is discrimination (Corrigan et al., 2006). One example of discrimination is when someone makes overt comments regarding another person’s mental health or the treatment they receive for it. Adverse treatment can sometimes be overt and obvious, such as when someone chooses to avoid other members of the society intentionally out of fear that they would damage or endanger them due to the fact that they have a mental disease. Maybe the members of society will decide how they feel about the individual’s mental illness. There is a close relationship between Mental illness and stigma, as will be evidenced in the discussions below.

Relationship between Mental Illness and Stigma

Mental illness generates or attracts a stigma

People who have mental illnesses may be subjected to stigma, which is when they are thought of in a negative light, viewed in an unjust manner, and made to feel ashamed or worthless, as though they are in some way inferior to other people (Pinfold et al., 2003). Stigma can indeed result in prejudice, and prejudice, in turn, can worsen mental illness severity.

Conceptions that are not accurate play a significant part in the development of stigma. People who struggle with mental illness are frequently and inaccurately characterized as being more inclined to engage in violent behavior. Those who struggle with anxiety may be stigmatized for their weakness rather than their illness. When someone is depressed, it is customary for others to tell them to “get over it.” People who are diagnosed with schizophrenia often receive the incorrect designation of having a “split personality.” Individuals who have mental illness are stigmatized in all of these different ways. Hence when one is diagnosed with a mental illness, it comes along with some stigmatization.

People who have mental health issues, such as anxiousness, depressed mood, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic traumatic stress, or those who have sought treatment for these conditions, can be stigmatized as a result of social disapproval or shame. This can also apply to people who have sought treatment for these conditions. In the mental health field, stigmatization can come from many sources, including people who are close to you, your peers, and even the general public. Organizations play a role in publicizing stigma. Those who struggle with mental health disorders may find it difficult to receive treatment, to be accepted by society, and to have a high quality of life (Pinfold et al., 2003). Hence, individuals encounter stigmatization soon as they are diagnosed with a mental disorder.

Stigma on mental disorders as a consequence of ill-knowledge

Most factors that contribute to the stigmatization of patients with mental disorder is as a consequence of people not understanding the nature of mental illness. For instance, some of the misconceptions that people have about mental illnesses are as a consequence of social stereotypes (Gould, 2006). A stereotype is a generalized and, more often than not, inaccurate opinion about something or someone. Hence, most of the stereotypes that people have about mental illnesses are misconstrued; they prevent people from researching and understanding more about mental illnesses.

As well, most of the people who stigmatize mental health patient lack awareness of the whiteouts of the mental illnesses. Many people just do not know enough about mental illness to recognize its signs and symptoms, comprehend its prevalence, or seek help when they require it. This prevents them from seeking treatment when they do require it. As a consequence of this, those who suffer from mental illness and those who are unable to comprehend their experiences are frequently subjected to severe judgment. Stigma arises when people have no understanding of the malady in mental illnesses.

Most of the information that people use to stigmatize patient of different mental illnesses are mostly influenced by the media. In the media, people with mental health issues are frequently portrayed unfavorably, and attempts are frequently made to link these issues to criminal behavior and violent acts. Misrepresentations of mental illness in the media have a significant impact on public perception and, in consequence, policymaking (Gould, 2006). Once those depictions are negative and incorrect, as is frequently the case, they add to the stigma and prejudice that act as obstacles to rehabilitation and treatment.

Patients may have difficulty identifying a worsening of their disease and selecting where to seek care if they do not have trustworthy information from family and friends (Brohan & Thornicroft, 2010). Patients may also have difficulty detecting a change in their symptoms. It is usual practice, for example, to avoid dealing with people who are suicidal out of concern for making their situation worse and urging them to behave suicidal. This is because of the fear of inciting them to act suicidally. Research has shown, however, that this anxiety is unfounded in some way, and that talking about suicide ideation can truly assist to ease discomfort in a person who is experiencing it (Livingston & Boyd, 2010). If members of the family and some other caretakers are aware of the severity of suicidal behavior and the fact that care searching frequently requires assistance, they will be better able to bring individuals in for emergency medical care before a tragic outcome occurs. This will allow them to bring individuals in for emergency medical care before a tragic outcome occurs.

Stigma intensifies mental illness

Discrimination and shame can make people feel even worse about seeking help, exacerbating their condition. People who have been diagnosed with serious mental illnesses are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of self-stigma. According to a recent systematic review of the research on the topic, stigma can compel diagnosed patients refrain from seeking further help resulting in a decline of their health. Stigma can compel individuals to isolate themselves from others and be reluctant to seek medical help. Without medical help, the mental health of the individual is left to detoriated (Corrigan et al., 2014).

Patients suffering from mental health may end up suffering from self-stigmatization. The stigma and discrimination that a lot of different people have to deal with make their already challenging conditions much worse. The people closest to us, our coworkers, the media, and even our loved ones can exert an influence on us through the medium of social pressure. When people come to believe the judgements and assumptions that others have made about them, a phenomenon known as internalized stigma can arise. Self-stigma, as a consequence of social stigmatization, worsens the mental condition of a patient (Corrigan et al., 2006).

Stigma and discrimination can be detrimental to a person’s mental health, and they can also discourage a person from seeking treatment for their condition. There is a correlation between living in deplorable situations, such as poverty, unemployment, and a lack of financial means, and the development of mental disease. Therefore, stigma and prejudice can keep people mired in a regressive cycle that is detrimental to their already compromised mental health.

Stigma has detrimental effects on the life of a person with Mental Illnesses

It has been determined that a significant barrier to treatment for those who suffer from mental illness as well as the people who care about them is the stigma that is attached to getting mental health care. If a person is prevented from receiving sufficient medical or mental care as a result of the impacts of stigma, their condition may deteriorate, and they may have to be readmitted to the facility on multiple occasions (Corrigan & Kleinlein, 2005). Patients frequently remark that the stigma and prejudice they endure is a strain on both their personal and professional lives. Some patients even go so far as to say that the stigma and prejudice they face is almost as distressing as the symptoms of their sickness. Stigma has a harmful effect not just on patients but also on their families and loved ones, as well as on those who work in mental health care.

Patients in Hong Kong who had been diagnosed with a mental disorder were disproportionately affected by the stigma they faced, which in turn reduced their use of mental health services. Stigmatization of someone with mental illness comes from many different sources, including relatives, community members, health care providers and employees, governmental organizations, the press, and the amusement sector. Aggression, intimidation, isolation, seclusion, rejections, criticism, discrimination, and depreciation are all hallmarks of stigmatization, many of which originate from widespread (mis)understandings regarding mental illness. These negative features of stigmatization are a result of widespread misconceptions about mental illness (Corrigan & Kleinlein, 2005). As long as the stigma associated with mental sickness is not addressed on a national basis, people with mental disorders in Hong Kong will continue to suffer and encounter barriers when seeking to gain access to mental health treatments.

In concluding this section, the state of mental health care around the world is currently dismal. Few facilities for mental health care are available, and those that have a bad reputation in terms of quality, human capital, and infrastructure. Additionally, the country has one of the lowest ratios of psychiatrists to patients of any country in the world. The care that is provided to people who suffer from mental illness is severely hindered not only by this condition, but also by the restricted awareness campaigns on mental disease, the continued prevalence of stigmatizing and conservative values regarding mental health, and a lack of understanding among local professionals in the field. Additionally, the stigma that is connected with mental illness is rarely confronted head-on, which results in ignorance, prejudice, bewilderment, and dread.

Role of The Social Worker Professional in the Prevention and Alleviation of Stigma

In addition to the efforts that are being made to decrease stigma through public policy initiatives, stigma reduction should be a component of social work practice. The goal of stigma management is to reduce the public’s knowledge of and dependence on social services, to draw attention to the positive contributions that clients make to society, and to reduce obstacles in terms of both social and physical closeness. Healthcare providers that are well-versed in the various strategies that can be taken to reduce stigma are in a better position to devise effective treatments and to offer patients counsel that is based in fact (Corrigan et al., 2014). Discussed below are some ways in which social workers can alleviate and help prevent the stigmatization of mentally ill patients.

Educating the Society

The social worker can enlighten both the patient and the members of the public on the nature of mental illnesses as a means of curbing stereotypes associated with mental illnesses. One of essential things that can be done to combat stigma is to educate the general public, train experts, and make taking a class on mental health mandatory for all students in fields other than medicine. If patients’ loved ones received thorough psycho-education that focused on the biological basis of mental health issues, it is possible that the stigma that is linked with mental health conditions may be reduced (Mendenhall & Frauenholtz, 2013).

It is not just the elderly members of society who should be enlightened, children in the immediate environment should also be educated. The inclusion of teachings on life skills and other useful topics in the curricula of children’s preschools and elementary schools can assist in forming their perspective on mental diseases at an early age (Mendenhall & Frauenholtz, 2013). Students could benefit from learning how to engage with a person who is experiencing mental health concerns, and this is something that should be incorporated into educational programs in order to provide students with this opportunity.

Changing the Society’s Culture on Mental illness

A Social Worker needs to understand that the consistent behavioral norms of a society’s members are the seed from which its culture grows. It’s possible that a well-planned strategy to promote new ways of thinking could help reduce the stigma associated with Mental illnesses (Pinfold et al., 2003). The establishment of cultural committees, the distribution of promotional materials, and the selection of an ambassador who seems to be optimistic about participating in such activities are all necessary steps that need to be taken in order to bring about a shift in the values and standards held by the general public. In today’s society, it is really essential to do away with stigma. In addition, the establishment of research organizations and institutions that consider a diverse range of points of view is a significant assistance in the process of eliminating stereotypes associated with mental illnesses. Social Workers should be at the forefront to champion new culture whose aim is to eradicate stigmas associated with mental illnesses.

Redirecting the use of media channels

There is no way to refute the role that the media plays in either the perpetuation or the reduction of stigma. Social Workers can use the educational potential of the media to correct mistaken attitudes and cultivate more accurate ones if directed by professionals and use the educational potential of the media (Heijnders & Van Der Meij, 2006). The media platforms are actually effective in reaching a wide populace and enlightening them on matters concerning mental illnesses. As pointed out earlier on, films and television shows have served to distort the image attached to mental illnesses. Under this strategy, Social Work professionals have the ability to educate those working in film production. Education and experience would be helpful for those working in planning and filmmaking. However, putting these efforts into reality is not a quick process, as there are many obstacles to overcome along the way.

Establishing contact with patients

Social workers can make those who are dealing with the effects of stigma the main focus of any effort to address the issue is one of the most effective techniques for combating the negative effects that stigma may have. This includes forming alliances with gatekeepers and opinion makers in order to influence change, as well as providing assistance to individuals who are experiencing stigma in order to acquire the knowledge, skills, and confidence necessary to overcome internalized stigma, deal with it, and fight stigma (Sherwood, 2019).

Mental Health Promotion Programs

A social worker can lead the community in programs that sensitize members of the community on matters pertaining to mental health. A social worker should be able to collaborate with other groups in the planning and execution of cultural, artistic, or athletic celebrations aimed at a diverse range of demographic groups (Scheyett, 2005). Here, an opportunity to exhibit not just the creative output of our patients but also that of other artists whose work addresses the topic of mental illness presents itself. A Social worker is expected to incorporate modern trends if he is to be successful in promoting mental health awareness. For instance, a celebrity who is well versed in who has just recovered can be used to attract the attention of more people to matters pertaining to mental illnesses. The promotion of programs that feature recovered psychiatric patients and make use of their experiences in venues such as festivals, group therapy, and seminars can be an effective strategy for reducing the stigma that is associated with mental health conditions.

Appropriate tariffs and the social rights of patients should be safeguarded

As the spokes people of the individuals ailing from mental disorders, social workers should ensure that there is an availability of inexpensive therapies for mental illness and the presence of stigma are linked to one another. They should emphasize how important it was to give these treatments the same level of priority as other medical services, with a particular emphasis on mental health services in order to eliminate discrimination (Yanos et al., 2015).

As well, Social Workers should ensure that patients of mental disorders receive care similar to other patients. those suffering from mental illness deserve the same rights and protections as everyone else that we make when we invest in better treatment for them. It is clear that the existing institutions need to be modified; this will not only ensure that victims of this kind are afforded their social rights, but it is also necessary since these patients require a regular way of life. Social workers can also guide patients to the relevant personnel (Corrigan et al., 2012). With the assistance of those groups, the patients are more likely to disclose their conditions and agree to treatment. Establishing specialized clinics and making use of the skills of psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, social service workers, and specialist nurses can be helpful in increasing acceptance among patients and the families of those patients.

Incorporating technological initiatives to curb stigmatization

People are becoming more reliant on mobile devices because of their convenience in linking them and obtaining information easily on world affairs. Social workers should device means to enlighten stigmatized patients and enlighten members of the public via technological devices (Ramsey & Montgomery, 2014). In recent years, healthcare systems have witnessed rapid advances in technology, including, but not limited to, the use of electronic medical records and use of the internet, tablets, and phones to provide care, collect data, and support clinical information and ongoing education. These advances, particularly the use of self-learning via tablets, the Internet, and phones offer potentially efficient methods to deliver information to members of the public and reduce the levels of stigmatization that patients have to face. This technological approach takes into account a number of fundamentally human aspects that play a role in contributing to stigma.

Social workers can use technological developments to stay connected to the patients offering the needed support against stigmatization. Clients suffering from mental illness who live in specific communities are given the opportunity to report and receive feedback on their health behaviors as well as symptoms of their illness through the use of mobile applications, which link them to peer support as well as nurses and other healthcare professionals (Charles & Bentley, 2016). When people access health services through mobile apps, the risk of facing stigma in the health center’s physical environment is reduced, and any accidental exposure to mental health condition is eliminated.

Other strategies

Altering the existing models of care is another strategy that can be utilized by Social Health Workers in an effort to decrease the effect that stigma has on mentally ill patients. The new structures should place a greater emphasis on mental health patients by satisfying their financial needs and providing them with better insurance coverage. This can be done while also paying closer attention to the needs of therapists, the relationship among the members of the therapeutic team, and the therapeutic alliance. A second emphasis can be placed on the need to strengthen the social connection that exists between therapists and the patients they treat (Brohan & Thornicroft, 2010). In the meantime, it has been suggested in different researches that are connected to this topic that universal access to health insurance plays a substantial role in lessening social judgments of persons who have preexisting mental conditions.


Social Workers play a critical role in championing against stigmatizing measures associated with mental disorders. Because stigma is so ubiquitous, it is hoped that measures to reduce it initiated by social workers would get support from government agencies, social activists, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). There is evidence that stigmatizing attitudes toward people with mental diseases are prevalent in a wide variety of cultures and organizations, including households, places of employment, among peers in the mental health profession, and among students. Patients might also be responsible for the stigma they face by engaging in behaviors that lead to their own stigmatization. The unpleasant effects of mental illnesses can be made worse by the stigma that surrounds them, and it can even make recovery more difficult in some cases. People in this situation may be subjected to a number of unavoidable difficulties, including discrimination, unequal rights, and unemployment. If different stakeholder in Hong Kong and other nationalities poll together resources, measures to alleviate mental disorders stigmatization will be more effective. Initiatives to reduce stigmatization should be constantly carried out targeting all the members of the public.


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