On the self-stigma of mental illness: stages, disclosure, and strategies for change

Can J Psychiatry. 2012 Aug;57(8):464-9. doi: 10.1177/070674371205700804.


People with mental illness have long experienced prejudice and discrimination. Researchers have been able to study this phenomenon as stigma and have begun to examine ways of reducing this stigma. Public stigma is the most prominent form observed and studied, as it represents the prejudice and discrimination directed at a group by the larger population. Self-stigma occurs when people internalize these public attitudes and suffer numerous negative consequences as a result. In our article, we more fully define the concept of self-stigma and describe the negative consequences of self-stigma for people with mental illness. We also examine the advantages and disadvantages of disclosure in reducing the impact of stigma. In addition, we argue that a key to challenging self-stigma is to promote personal empowerment. Lastly, we discuss individual- and societal-level methods for reducing self-stigma, programs led by peers as well as those led by social service providers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Mental Disorders / therapy
  • Power, Psychological
  • Prejudice
  • Self Concept*
  • Self Disclosure
  • Self-Help Groups
  • Social Adjustment
  • Social Stigma*
  • Stereotyping