Stigma: Mental Health

Mental health stigmatization was first seen even before 400 B.C. since people who suffered from mental illnesses were thought to be demonically possessed. Even in the 20th century, when doctors invented the first antipsychotic drug to help control psychotic symptoms, ironically mental health stigmatization increased (Tracy, 2019). Why may you ask?

The answer is simple. Despite the fact that doctors found a way to help mentally ill people who were hospitalized, so as to remove them from institutions, no one provided those people with housing or with follow-up care. This resulted in many mentally ill people becoming homeless and/or incarcerated, increasing the stigmatization of that group of people.

Goffman (1963), who is one of the first social psychologists and sociologists who laid the foundation for the scientific research of stigma, proposed that people tend to ostracize others who appear to have:

·  physical deformation,

·  mental illness,

·  and/or different race, or identity.

In other words, most people will reject an individual/ group of individuals because of an attribute that appears to “make them” deviant from the cultural norms of that specific time and place. The word “stigma” originates from Greek, meaning “to carve, to mark as a sign of shame, punishment or disgrace.” More specifically, in ancient Greece, society would stigmatize slaves and criminals by marking a brand on their skin to distinguish them from the rest of the population.

The power of the majority and the lack of awareness, knowledge, and education on mental illness, shape people’s perception of the subject. The labeling that stigma leaves tends to appear on many strata (i.e., self-stigma, public stigma, professional stigma, institutional stigma). Therefore, these stigmas can be easily internalized by individuals, leading to perpetuating shame and enforcing the vicious cycle of mental illness (Rössler, 2016).

Every 10th of October marks World Mental Health Day and its objective is to raise awareness of mental health issues. As aforementioned, stigmatization is bolstered by what is considered normal at a specific time and place. However, due to the power of the stigma, many people suffer on a mental, biological, and societal level because their attributes are not considered “normal.” Let’s give space to people and educate ourselves on what is unknown to us. Great video to watch: There’s no shame in taking care of your mental health.


Goffman, E. (1986). Stigma: Notes on the Management of a Spoiled Identity. New York: Simon & Schuster. 

Rössler, W. (2016). The stigma of mental disorders. EMBO Rep17(9), 1250–1253.

Tracy, N. (2019, October 23). The History of Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, October 4 from