Scattergood Foundation

Advancing Innovative Strategies for Change in Behavioral Health

Prejudice Towards People with Mental Illness

Common Prejudicial Attitudes: 
Below are the most common prejudicial attitudes towards people with mental health conditions. Prejudicial reactions occur when people agree with and endorse stereotypes:

Fear and exclusion: People with mental illness should be feared and kept out of most communities. This prejudice is closely linked to endorsement of the dangerousness stereotype and the blame stereotype. This often is expressed as NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) directed towards establishments that serve people with mental health conditions like treatment facilities or facilities that offer job training for people with mental illness. However, individuals can fear and avoid specific individuals with mental illness as well. Excluding a neighbor with mental illness from a dinner party or neighborhood event are good examples. 

Authoritarianism: People with mental illness are irresponsible and others should make their decisions. This is closely related to endorsement of the incompetence stereotype. This prejudice can apply to many decisions people with mental illness could make like decisions about taking medication, decisions about personal finances, or decisions about raising children. In theses instances the authoritarianism prejudice suggests that individuals with mental illness should not be allowed to make those decisions on their own. 
Benevolence: People with mental illness are childlike and must be cared for. This prejudicial attitude is linked to the incompetence stereotype as well as the stereotype that there is little hope for recovery. This prejudice can seem benign as it is often accompanied by sympathy and pity. As the term benevolence implies, it is not a malicious attitude, but people who harbor it think less of those with mental illness and less of their capabilities. This is an instance of prejudice with a smile. 
How does prejudice impact those with mental health conditions?
Prejudice can impact people with mental illness in several negative ways. Encountering prejudicial attitudes or even being aware of their existence can result in shame, embarrassment, and lowered self-esteem. Even worse, if the person with a mental health condition considers prejudicial attitudes legitimate, he may internalize those attitudes and apply them to himself. This is called self-stigma and it contributes to low self-esteem and low self-efficacy (feeling capable of completing tasks and accomplishing goals). 
Prejudicial attitudes often lead to discriminatory behaviors if people in positions of power and authority hold these attitudes. For instance, an employer who harbor the benevolence prejudice may not hire someone with a mental illness for a job even if the applicant is qualified for the position. A landlord who holds the fear and exlusion prejudice may not rent an apartment to a person with a mental illness even if that person satisfies the necessary financial requirements for renting the unit.
Another significant impact of prejudice is that it is a barrier to people seeking help for mental health concerns. Many research studies have found that fear of prejudice causes people with diagnosable conditions to avoid diagnosis and treatment. Prejudice also has an unexpected influence on help-seeking behavior. Research has found that people who harbor prejudicial attitudes are less likely to seek treatment for themselves if they have a diagnosable condition. They are also less likely to adhere to treatment even if they do go.