Mental Illness and Stigma

What are mental illnesses?

Mental illnesses are just like any other illness: everyone deserves care, help, and support.

Mental illnesses are illnesses of the brain. They are health conditions that affect the way we think, feel and behave. Mental illnesses can affect how we relate to others, and interact with the world around us. Mental illnesses can disrupt a person’s life or create challenges in daily functioning. Access to services, support from loved ones and the ability to participate in one’s community play a big part in the way people experience mental illnesses.

Just like any other health condition, mental illness can be treated.

Are all mental illnesses the same?

No. Health professionals divide mental illnesses into different groups based on signs and symptoms. Common groupings include:

  • anxiety disorders
  • mood disorders
  • eating disorders
  • dementia
  • psychotic disorders
  • personality disorders
  • childhood disorders

Within these groups are diverse types of mental illness. People may experience different symptoms even for the same illness. These types of mental illness include (but are not limited to) Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Eating Disorders, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Phobias and Panic Disorders, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Postpartum Depression, Schizophrenia, and Stress.

What is stigma?

Stigma is a negative stereotype that marginalizes people because of their illness. Stigma may be intentional or unintentional. It involves prejudice and discrimination of those of us who live with a mental health issue (and their families) based on fear and lack of understanding. Many people with a mental illness report the stigma and how others judge them is one of their greatest barriers to a complete and satisfying life.

Why do we need to talk about stigma?

What people think about mental illnesses and addictions really does matter. When society believes that a person with a mental illness is untrustworthy, dangerous or simply “less than” themselves, it has real impact. Stigma can keep those of us with a mental illness or addiction from talking to a loved one, for fear of losing that love. It can keep someone from telling their employer when they need adjustments to workload, for fear of losing their job. It can keep someone from seeking medical help for fear of judgment. Yet not seeking treatment can have devastating results, including loss of income, increased illness severity, hopelessness and suicide. Stigma is real, and it has real consequences. Many of us might not even know we are contributing to stigma. While talking about mental illness and addiction is becoming more acceptable, it certainly still lags behind the acceptability of talking about other health problems.

What can we do about stigma?

  • Take the time to listen to a person who has experienced a mental illness or addiction. Listening to a person’s experience of living with a mental illness is one of the most effective ways of increasing our understanding and decreasing stigma.
  • Avoid using words that add to the stigma such as calling someone “nuts” or “crazy”.
  • Spot discrimination? Don’t be afraid to call it what it is. A call to action to change discriminatory practices or policies can reduce stigma and inspire hope.
  • Ask questions and get information from trusted sources—this website is a start!
  • Find the experts: people in recovery, counselors, physicians or resources such as self help, peer support and other community resources that focus on helping those with mental health problems, mental illness or an addiction. Make use of them.

Services related to this information:

  • Bridge the gapp
    Newfoundland and Labrador’s ‘go-to’ website for mental health information. Bridge the gapp offers self-help resources, links to local services, and invites people to share their personal stories. Bridge the gapp is free of cost and available to every resident in the province. The site is divided into adult and youth sections, however many services are appropriate for both.
  • Mental health and addictions services
  • Doorways: rapid ‘one session at a time’ counselling services.
  • 811 HealthLine (Newfoundland & Labrador) – Call 811 or 1-888-709-2929 / TTY 1-888-709-3555
    • 811 is free and confidential. 811 is available 24/7 and can provide support with mental health and addictions issues and more.
    • Services formerly offered by the Provincial Mental Health Crisis Line are now offered by 811. Call 811 to speak with a registered nurse who is also a trained crisis intervener.


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Last updated: 2022-01-12