What is Stigma?


“60% of people with a mental health problem or illness won’t seek help for fear of being labelled.”

Mental Health Commission of Canada, retrieved 2014

Stigma is the negative stereotype that leads some people to think of others as unacceptably different based on their identity and certain characteristics they possess, and to treat them in negative, disrespectful, limiting and harmful ways.

For people living with mental health disorders, the experience of stigma and discrimination can be one of the greatest barriers to being able to lead a full and satisfying life.

Evidence shows that the stigma associated with mental disorders can have devastating personal and social consequences.

  • Loss of self-esteem, feelings of being devalued.
  • Difficulties making friends and having long-term relationships.
  • Problems obtaining employment and finding housing.
  • Problems participating in social activities.
  • Delays in seeking treatment and receiving appropriate medical care.
  • Financial stress and economic hardship.
  • Life expectancy as a result of these multiple stressors.

“A healthy work organization is defined as one whose culture, climate and organizational practices create an environment which promotes employee mental and physical health, as well as productivity and organizational effectiveness.” (Murphy, 1999)

Employers and leaders must be mindful of how their organizational practices and workplace culture affects their employees.

  • Normalize mental health by speaking openly about stress, work-life balance and other issues.
  • Raise awareness about mental health by observing the Canadian Mental Health Association's Mental Health Week.
  • Help leaders recognize and manage mental health.

An employee’s recovery from a mental illness can be supported by maintaining a connection to work and peers. Workplace accommodations such as reducing the pace of work, flexible hours or adjusted job functions will go a long way to contribute to a sustainable recovery.

Employees need to know they can approach their manager or employer without the fear of workplace repercussions.

  • Educate yourself and others to challenge negative stereotypes about mental health.
  • Be aware of your own behaviour and attitudes towards mental illness.
  • Use accurate and sensitive words in communications with – and about - people.
  • Support those living with mental illness by respecting their dignity and demonstrating respect.
  • Be inclusive. It is against the law in Canada for employers and service providers to discriminate against people with mental health and substance use disorders. When people are denied access to things such as jobs, housing and health care, this violates their human rights (Ontario Human Rights Commission).

Support and education

Visit these tools and websites for more information: