Stigma and Recovery

Stigma and Recovery

Lay views of psychological differences and attributions of stigma

In every culture, there is some notion of emotional and psychological difference, but these differences are not identified in the same way by different cultures.

Users of mental health services, rejecting the notion of ‘mental illness’ have often opted for the term ‘mental distress’. One of the problems with this term, according to my textbook, is that it gives no indication that people experiencing mental distress can also be distressing, frustrating or frightening to others.

Stereotyping and stigma

Stereotyping is not always negative, but it is always narrow and potentially misleading because it ignores individual variability within social groups.

The shift from stereotyping to stigmatisation involves an enlargement of prejudicial social typing. Two other processes are also involved: The first is emotional (anxious avoidance, hostility, or pity) while the second is moral (caring paternalism, moral outrage, revulsion).

The stigmatised person is set apart from everyone else. According to labelling theory, stigmatised people (the labelled) become isolated and demoralised and develop a ‘spoiled identity’.

The negative stereotypes underlying the stigmatisation of people with mental health challenges contain three recurring elements: intelligibility; social competence and credibility; and, violence.

The backbone of stigma

The persistence of stigma across eras and countries makes it a culturally enduring phenomenon.

The ‘backbone’ of stigma refers to social rejection and personal devaluation in intimate settings.

Does labelling matter?

If negative stereotyping is unreasonable but still occurs, does any prejudicial action flowing from it matter?

There is clearly a negative impact of labelling. While labelling does provide people with options in terms of addressing their mental health challenges, the resulting devaluation of the person outweighs this positive impact.

The role of mass media

Media representations of mental health challenges often contain negative images. This reinforces an inaccurate link between mental health challenges and violence.

Social exclusion and discrimination

Modern societies place a high value on rationality. Because of this, people demonstrated irrationality may seem like a valid basis for social rejection and invalidation.  From this, people who experience mental health challenges are not seen as deserving of the same human rights as everyone else.


I have not completed these notes here because most of them have to do with stigma, and the social model of disability which is something that I am quite familiar with.

This is part of a series of summaries that I am doing in order to revise Sociology of Mental Health. It won’t be shared on social media, but anyone is welcome to read these posts if they would be of interest.

If you would like to read more, most of this information came from this book.