Mental Health Disorders And Discrimination


Mental health stigmas give rise to discrimination. Discrimination results in the unfair treatment of people with mental health disorders. It can take on many forms and these include:

  • Direct discrimination
  • Discriminating against disability
  • Indirect discrimination
  • Harassment and Victimization

“People with mental illness know that if they come out of the closet, if they’re seen with a doctor, the public will discriminate against them.” Patrick W. Corrigan, PsyD said in an interview.

Regardless of the form the discrimination takes, the result and impact are the same. They deny people access to services, employment, housing and mental health treatment due to social and cultural stigmas. In some instances, this discrimination takes on the form of harassment, violence, and victimization. As a result, people are often denied their basic human rights.

Understanding Discrimination

Let’s simplify this term and take a look at the various forms of discrimination:

Direct discrimination is when the individual with the mental disorder is differently treated. An example of this discrimination is when someone is not considered or is overlooked for a promotion due to their disorder, even if they are more qualified for the position. This is also often the case with being refused housing due to their disorder or not being accepted into communities.

Discrimination as result of your disability is when discrimination occurs as a result of an action or symptom related to the disorder. A good example of this is someone with Tourette syndrome being denied employment because of his symptoms.

“Discrimination is the unfair or prejudicial treatment of people and groups based on characteristics such as race, gender, age or sexual orientation.” Elizabeth Brondolo, Ph.D., Vickie Mays, Ph.D., James S. Jackson, Ph.D., and James M. Jones, Ph.D. shares in an article for the APA website.

Indirect Discrimination is a result of policies or practices that would exclude certain individuals. An example would be, for instance, your key job requirements do not require you to be in possession of a driver’s permit. However, management only considers individuals with a driver’s permit for a promotion.

Harassment can take on many forms. It basically comes down to an action that is unwanted or uninvited that leaves the person feeling uncomfortable such as in the case of derogatory remarks, like using the words crazy, nutcase, and the likes, to refer to someone with a mental disorder.

Victimization can arise as a result of the person with the mental disorder speaking out against discrimination. For example, a person complaining about the clerk at a grocery store for using derogatory remarks. The store manager will side with the clerk and tell the person with the disorder to shop somewhere else in the future.


Discrimination in numbers


If you have any questions as to whether discrimination against people with mental disorders really does exist or whether they are a concern that needs to be addressed, let these numbers paint you a picture:

  • In the UK alone, 70% of people with mental disorders experience discrimination. It is believed that this discrimination is worse in developing countries. [Information from The Guardian]
  • Mental and psychosocial disabilities are associated with rates of unemployment as high as 90%. [Results from WHO]
  • Unemployment rates for people with serious and persistent psychiatric disabilities (such as schizophrenia) are the highest, typically between 80-90% at any given time. [Results from Medscape]

It is also important to consider that people are denied of employment for jobs they are fully qualified to do just because they have a mental disorder. With a few simple adjustments on how people with mental disabilities are treated, without a doubt, it will positively impact on the economic status of any country.

How Stigmas and Discrimination Impacts Individuals



“Because of stigma, people who need treatment may fail to seek it and they may face discrimination and problems at work or school or even encounter harassment or violence.”  Dr. Katherine Nordal said. “Furthermore, untreated mental health disorders cost businesses millions of dollars in lost productivity, absenteeism and health care costs.” She added.

The effects of stigma and discrimination include:

  • The person will feel isolated, ashamed, embarrassed and hopeless.
  • Self-stigmatization and fear of being found out.
  • No access to support due to the lack of understanding by family, friends or communities.
  • Fewer opportunities for employment and adequate housing.
  • Harassment, physical or emotional abuse, and victimization.
  • People being denied access to basic human rights.