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A Public Health Perspective on the Stigmatization of Mental Illnesses

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Mental illness stigma occurs when individuals are devalued or treated unfairly by others because of their mental health condition. The stigmatization of people with mental illnesses has been recognized by international agencies such as the World Health Organization and the World Psychiatric Association as an important public health and human rights problem. This paper reviews the origins of mental illness stigma and examines population-based research that describes public perceptions of people with a mental illness; experiences of stigma by people who have a mental illness; and mental health literacy. It shows that, in spite of increasing public knowledge about mental illnesses, their causes, and their treatments, people who have a mental illness and their family members continue to be stigmatized in ways that limit their civic participation and human rights. The paper closes with recommendations for evidence-based anti-stigma programming that is focused on the needs and priorities of people who have experienced a mental illness, argues for more comprehensive epidemiologic data describing the frequency and personal impact of stigma experiences and recommends that public health agencies view stigma reduction as part of their global mental health mandate.


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Correspondence to Heather Stuart PhD.

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Stuart, H., Arboleda-Flórez, J. A Public Health Perspective on the Stigmatization of Mental Illnesses. Public Health Rev 34, 12 (2012) doi:10.1007/BF03391680

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Key Words

  • Stigma
  • stigmatization
  • mental illness stigma
  • mental health stigma