Causes and Impacts of Self-Stigma

Essay Question: What is ‘self stigma’, why is it a problem, and what can help solve it?

Self-stigma is a belief that derives from public stigma. Public stigma creates social stigmas from a collective perspective of a society that comes in forms of discrimination stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination. If an individual internalizes these thoughts and actions to a personal level, then they develop self-stigma.  Mental illness often intertwines with self-stigma due to the stereotypes that are associated with mental illness. The essay will discuss what is self-stigma, the cause and its effects. Additionally, it will discuss about different strategies that can be used to combat against it.

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There are three components that makes up public and self-stigma, it consists of stereotype, prejudice and discrimination. Stereotypes is a thought about a generalization of a group that is then applied to every member of the group regarding the differences between each member, it does not necessarily have to be a negative generalization. While prejudice refers to the negative feelings towards a group based on an action of one member, generally it is hostile. Finally, discrimination refers to the harmful and unjustified action towards those groups. The difference between public and self-stigma is the extent at which the individual internalizes the social stigmas, the moment they internalize it they have developed self-stigma. The severity of self-stigma depends on the level of understanding that the individual has towards a stigma.

To experience self-stigma an individual must follow the stage model of self-stigma, which represents a hierarchical step that people with self-stigma find themselves going through. The stage consists of awareness, agreement and application (Rüsch, Corrigan & Larson, 2009).  Awareness is the stage that individuals become aware of the stereotype, for example a stigma related to depression is that depressed people are always, and they know that. Second stage is agreement which is when an individual accepts the fact that the stereotype is true, and they do not deny it. Depressed individuals know that they are unable to find joy and motivation in do anything, so they accept this stigma. Finally, application is the stage when the individual applies and internalize the stereotypes to themselves. It is known that depressed people know that they are constantly unhappy and lack motivation they then apply the characteristics of depression to themselves and believes that they are diagnosed with depression.

There are a broad and stereotypical way of representing stigmas associated with mental illnesses. There are three distinct stigmas which includes fear and exclusion, authoritarianism, and benevolence (Corrigan & Watson, 2002). When a person is diagnosed with a mental illness, these stereotypes often applies to them. Fear and exclusion refer to fear of people with mental illness because the public view them as crazy and dangerous. Authoritarianism refers to how the mentally ill has lack of control and responsibility. Finally, benevolence which refers to how people with mentally illness have a childlike characteristic therefore they need to be tended for most of the time. These stigmas have different negative consequences to these group of people. It affects their social opportunities such as employment (Corrigan &Kleinlein, 2005). When seeking employment most job openings does not want people with mental illness due to the stigmas associated with them, this means that the chance for them to be hired are low. The consequences expand further to the individual’s financial wellbeing. Studies has shown that low income are often associated with poor quality of life because this does not enable them to get access to proper housing, food and health services (Corrigan &Watson,2002). Another aspect that self-stigma affect is that it acts as a barrier that prevents people with mental illnesses to get treatments. This is due to the labels imposed on people with mental illnesses as described before, an individual with self-stigma may not want to receive treatment because they are afraid of the stigmas associated with mental illnesses (Corrigan, Anderson, Norman B, 2004). They behave in this way because it is a way for them to escape additional labelling that may deepen their current mental condition.

Self-stigma generally affects individual negatively. Self-stigma affects an individual’s self-esteem and self-efficacy. After reaching the final stage (agreement) an individual’s self-esteem and self-efficacy will decline because of the negative stigmas that they have internalized before.  The consequences of low self-esteem and self-efficacy is that it affects an individual’s goal attainment and personal pursuit and overall overall their quality of life (Corrigan & Rao, 2012) . Self-esteem refers to a person’s ability to perceive their own success and worth, therefore individuals with self-stigma will perceive themselves as worthless. While self-efficacy refers to an individual’s perspective on how they view their capabilities, thus individuals with self-stigma will have high incapability to proceed in life independently.  An example of both factors can be explained by the Why Try effect which showcase how the individuals with self-stigma react and respond to situations. Individual that has low self-esteem tends to question their worthiness, for example they would say “Why should I do most of the talking for the presentation? My other group members are much capable than me”. Individual with low self-efficacy are characterized by lack of confidence in their skills “Why should I live by myself? I cannot manage myself properly”.

Alternatively, some individuals may not react to self-stigma negatively, some may even find themselves using it as a source to increase their self-efficacy and self-esteem, this is referred to as the paradox of self-stigma (Corrigan & Watson, 2002). A study about this paradox involved participants diagnosed with mental illnesses.  Two main groups were identified which are African American and white Americans. The results showed that the African American group who in this case were considered the greater stigmatized group due to the issue of racism in the United States, had higher self-perception than the white participants. This study showed that sometimes self-stigmatized individuals may use the negative stigmas to empower themselves by using it as a source of anger that fuels and motivate them to retaliate against it. In other words, they use it to empower themselves against the negative social stigmas and by doing so it increases their self-perception altogether.

There are multiple methods for treating people who suffers self-stigma. There is no way to completely remove self-stigma because it is a collective idea within a society, but there are ways to alleviate the negative effects of it. People with self-stigma tends to keep their problems to themselves and not seek others for help with it. Coming out is a method that allows sufferer to share their experience, this has shown to improve their own personal wellbeing (Corrigan and Rao, 2012). However, there are reasons that challenges this method which includes social avoidance and social disclosure. Social avoidance is when the sufferer considers the negative outcomes to outweigh the positive outcome, meaning that it is not worth taking the risk because it could lead to lower self-esteem than initially diagnosed.  If a person commits to come out it means they are willing to take some form of treatment. For example, “taking a pill for mental illness show others that the person is depressed” Rüsch, Corrigan & Larson, 2009, p79. This means they potentially could expose themselves to even more negative stigmas.  Selective disclosure refers to when an individual only shares their experience with only some groups, it has its own benefits and negatives. For one it creates a new supportive group while the problem is that since they are confining the information to another group this means that the individual has still not completely come out with their issues, this could be another source of stigma because the person is still hiding it from some people (Corrigan and Rao, 2012). Ending self-stigma intervention is treatment type that utilizes cognitive behavior therapy, which is psychotherapy that uses teaching and learning as emphasis. Through this therapy self-stigma is converted into an “irrational statement” Corrigan and Rao, 2012,p4), this allows the individual to challenge and think about the application of the stigma. This leads them to think start to slowly disregard the negative stigma as they learn to contemplate about the application of it. For example, let a stigma be people with schizophrenia are crazy, then the thought challenging answer would be, just because I got crazy from pure joy, it does not mean that I have schizophrenia. By this thought process an individual may find themselve slowly diverging away from the negative stigma. Lastly empowerment is a way to reduce self-stigma by, increasing one’s self esteem and self-efficacy it can “promote a sense of control and power one’s life” (Corrigan and Rao, 2012). Study has shown that people with high self-esteem and self-efficacy has an overall better quality of life than those that have lower. By promoting these factors, the individual can regain self-confidence and productivity, therefore this will allow them to excel further in terms of seizing opportunities in life such as work, academics and independent living.

In conclusion public stigma creates self-stigma when an individual internalizes social stigmas. There are numerous negative effects that contribute to a person’s quality of life that even prevents them from receiving treatment. However, there are also multiple methods to reduce the severity of the stigma that are proven effective despite the risks involved with it.


–          Corrigan, P., & Anderson, Norman B. (2004). How Stigma Interferes With Mental Health Care. American Psychologist, 59(7), 614-625.

–          Corrigan, P., & Kleinlein, P. (2005). The Impact of Mental Illness Stigma. (pp. 11-44). American Psychological Association.

–          Corrigan, P., & Rao, D. (2012). On the Self-Stigma of Mental Illness: Stages, Disclosure, and Strategies for Change. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 57(8), 464-469.

–          Corrigan, P., & Watson, A. (2002). The paradox of self-stigma and mental illness. Clinical Psychology-Science and Practice, 9(1), 35-53.

–          Corrigan, P., & Watson, A. (2002). Understanding the impact of stigma on people with mental illness. World Psychiatry: Official Journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), 1(1), 16-20.

–          Corrigan, P., Larson, J., & Rüsch, N. (2009). Self-stigma and the “why try” effect: Impact on life goals and evidence-based practices. World Psychiatry: Official Journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), 8(2), 75-81.


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