Home » Challenging Stigma & Discrimination

Challenging Stigma and Discrimination

People living with mental illness regularly identify that stigma and discrimination urgently need to change. NSWCAG works to present positive, real stories of people living with mental illness and seek commitment from policy and decision makers to address these issues within the community and mental health services. Two of our projects have been the launch of a DVD and a postcard campaign. To read more click here to view the DVD click . To purchase the DVD click here .

What is stigma?

Stigma is a broad term which is used to describe the negative and stereotypical thoughts, attitudes, and feelings about people on the basis of the traits of a person, which can include gender, skin colour, sexual orientation, religion and mental illness. It has been used to label certain groups of people as less worthy of respect than others. These attitudes in the community are supported by ignorance, prejudice and discrimination, and are perpetuated when mental illness is represented in an inaccurate way by the media.

Although it may not be physically obvious, there is a lot of stigma associated with mental illness in society.  This can impact on the lives of people who live with mental illness, their families and carers, and more broadly all those who wish to live in a fair society. Discrimination, for example where people are treated differently, excluded, and given less opportunities, results from such stigma.

Common misperceptions that contribute to the stigma of mental illness:

  • That people with mental illness are dangerous. For example, in the media and movies people with mental illness are often portrayed as being violent and dangerous. This is despite the fact that 80 to 90 per cent of people with mental illness never commit violent crimes.
  • That all people who experience mental illness fit into one stereotype and are the same.
  • That people who experience mental illness are unfit to work.

Stigma can:

  • Make a person feel socially alienated. This means that people who live with mental illness may find it harder to marry, to have children, to maintain employment and have a social life. People may lose contact with family, friends and social groups as a consequence.
  • Make a person feel discouraged when it comes to seeking help. People may not understand their symptoms and be hesitant to seek treatment, often because of the negative attitudes that they have experienced towards mental health issues.
  • Be in the form of public stigma and self-stigma. Public stigma is the reaction that the general public has to people with mental illness. Self-stigma is the negative view that people who live with mental illness have of themselves because of their mental illness. This happens when a person is fearful of discrimination as a result of mental illness, and may make a person hide their illness as a way to influence the impression they make on other people. Some negative emotions which people may feel towards themselves are harmful to self esteem and confidence, and include shame, embarrassment, alienation and fear.
  • Affect friends and family of those who experience mental illness.
  • Lead to discrimination in the workplace and community, and also impact on securing safe and suitable accommodation.
  • Hinder recovery.

Stigma is reinforced by:

  • The media
  • Public attitudes and stereotypes
  • The community by the use of discriminatory terms such as "psycho", "schizo", "nut" and "crazy".

What is NSWCAG doing to challenge stigma & discrimination faced by people with the experience of mental illness?

In Mental Health Week, 2007 NSWCAG launched the start of a campaign to challenge stigma and discrimination towards people experiencing mental illness. In the first stage we have produced a DVD of people's stories, titled "It's only 1/100th of me" Stories of 6 People Challenging Stigma and Discrimination Surrounding Mental Illness.


The DVD presents personal experiences of six people from diverse backgrounds of stigma, discrimination and the impacts of these. The DVD also describes experiences of inclusion and the importance of being accepted and valued. Although the participants live very different lives, their common fight against stigma and discrimination has brought them together for the purposes of this project.

This DVD available from our website for other people to use in their education and anti-stigma work. A copy of the DVD is available for purchase for a cost of $5. To obtain a copy, please contact us at info@nswcag.org.au or on 02 9332 0200.

NSWCAG continues to use the DVD as part of future lobbying and education.

To view the DVD click "It's only 1/100th of me" Stories of 6 People Challenging Stigma and Discrimination Surrounding Mental Illness

In 2008 NSWCAG continued our campaign challenging stigma and discrimination by launching a lobbying postcard during Mental Health Week. The postcard viewed below was designed for people to send it directly to the Minister Assisting the Minister for Health (Mental Health) to ask for the government to implement a program to overcome this stigma and discrimination.

The back of the postcard read:

Dear Minister Perry

Stigma and discrimination are major issues faced by people with living with mental illness. Many people do not realise that mental illness is only one part of an individual, resulting in many people living with mental illness experiencing discrimination in all aspects of their life.

I call on the NSW Government to launch a statewide program to increase knowledge and awareness about mental illness in order to combat stigma and discrimination. This program needs to include:

  • Education strategies (including contact with people living with mental illness) aimed at mental health staff; people in training to enter health, education, and other related professions; employers; journalists; and the general public;
  • Examination and amendment of state policies that discriminate against people with mental illness;
  • A broad media campaign.

Within days of the launch of NSWCAG's campaign, Minister Perry had requested a briefing from staff at the Mental Health, Drug and Alcohol Office (MHDAO), which is the part of the NSW Department of Health that administers the mental health and drug and alcohol programs, services and policies. The Minister requested their advice about what programs are currently in place and what else is needed to assist combat this stigma and discrimination. We were delighted to have such a quick initial response from the Minister, and worked with MHDAO to finalise the briefing. NSWCAG will continue this lobbying work in meetings with MHDAO and the Minister.

More information about stigma

How is stigma being addressed?

Literature indicates that the three most successful ways for reducing stigma are education, contact and protest. It is also highlighted that for stigma reduction campaigns to be most effective they should involve a variety of these ways to reduce stigma.

  • Education involves replacing misperceptions with actual facts.
  • Contact involves changing public attitudes about mental illness through direct interactions with people who have experienced mental illness.
  • Protest is used as a way to suppress negative behaviour, and is most commonly used to challenge the way that the media present mental illness.

The Australian Disability Discrimination Act 1992 seeks to address discrimination for people with disability, including people who live with mental illness. This Act makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of disability in the areas of employment, education, services and facilities, sport, accommodation, buying or selling land, access to premises, activities of clubs and administration of Commonwealth laws and programs.

What success have anti-stigma programs had so far?

Like Minds, Like Mine : New Zealand

This program began in 1997, and uses the following strategies to counter stigma and discrimination towards people who experience mental illness:

  • Contact with people with the experience of mental illness
  • Challenging people and organisations to make sure that people who experience mental illness have the same rights as everyone else
  • Education and training to change discriminatory attitudes and behaviour

These strategies included a nationwide television and radio advertising campaign, public speaking engagements by people with experience of mental illness and local awareness raising events such as art exhibitions. There are also strategies used to encourage non-discriminatory reporting of mental health stories including complaints about discriminatory reporting through letters to the editor, the production of guidelines for journalists and training for journalism students.

Some positive results from this program measured by a survey include that:

  • People are more aware of how common mental illness is, and they were less judgmental, and more interested than when the program began;
  • People reported lowered levels of stigma and discrimination from family, mental health services and the public; and
  • Infrastructure has been built for education and training.

This and more information on the Like Minds, Like Mine Program can be found at http://www.likeminds.org.nz/

See Me : Scotland

This campaign was launched in Scotland in 2002, and uses a variety of strategies to counter stigma and discrimination experienced by people who live with mental illness, including:

  • Social marketing campaigns to address public attitudes and behaviours, to tackle inequality and to challenge stigma in public services
  • Participation of people with the experience of mental illness
  • Building local capacity to take action

These strategies include media campaigns, representing people's personal experiences of mental illness through focus groups, public speaking at meetings and conferences and information available from websites. There are also strategies which target the media, including challenging negative reporting, media monitoring and providing support and briefings to journalists.

Some positive results of this program measured by a survey include:

  • A drop in negative impacts of mental ill-health on people's lives;
  • A feeling that the stigma problem across Scotland had improved;
  • A positive shift in people's attitudes; and
  • That people felt able to be more open and talk about their mental health problem, or to encourage others to do so.

This and more information can be found on the See Me website:


  • Australia has a number of anti-stigma campaigns aimed at reducing the stigma associated with mental illness, including:
  • Beyondblue raises community awareness about depression and reducing stigma associated with illnesses: www.beyondblue.org.au .
  • SANE Australia runs an anti-stigma media campaign, StigmaWatch, which publishes online details of organisations and individuals which do not represent mental illness in an accurate manner. StigmaWatch also features examples of good practice within the media: www.sane.org
  • Mindframe National Media Initiative aims to encourage accurate reporting of mental illness in the media www.mindframe-media.info/

What is NSWCAG lobbying for?

The previous experience of anti-stigma campaigns has found that for campaigns to be effective they must:

  • Have adequate funding
  • Be considerable in intensity and duration in order to affect the public
  • Use a variety of methods, for example, education, contact and protest

NSWCAG believes that it is very important that people who experience mental illness are accepted and understood within the community. That is why NSWCAG is lobbying for a statewide campaign that combines education, contact with people who live with mental illness, and protest to make sure that people who experience mental illness have the same rights as everybody else.

NSWCAG would like to see a program implemented in NSW similar to the Like Minds, Like Mine Program in New Zealand, or See Me in Scotland, and which includes a broad advertising campaign, people with mental illness being involved in public education strategies, education campaigns and the continued strategy of monitoring and educating journalists about the effects of discriminatory reporting of mental health issues in the media.

"It's only 1/100th of me" Stories of 6 People Challenging Stigma and Discrimination Surrounding Mental Illness

  Amy's Story


Bronwyn's Story


Craig's Story








Crystal's Story   Fay's Story   Katrina's Story



DVD Credits

NSW Consumer Advisory Group - Mental Health Inc would like to thank the team of people who participated in the making of this DVD.

Produced by : NSW Consumer Advisory Group-Mental Health Inc.

Filming and Editing : Art Resistance Video, Sydney

Visual Shots of Amy in Dubbo : Vision Communications, Dubbo NSW

CAG Production Team : Rebecca Doyle, NSW Consumer Advisory Group

Publicity & Coordination Assistance :
Yvette Cotton, NSW Consumer Advisory Group, Maureen O'Keeffe, NSW Consumer Advisory Group, Karen Oakley, NSW Consumer Advisory Group

Interviewees : Bronwyn, Craig Bush, Amy Mines, Fay Jackson, CEO, Vision in Mind, Crystal Antaw, Katrina Stewart

Actors : Fay Jackson's Story

Admin Assistant: Karen Oakley

Crytal Antaw's Story

Line Dancer 1: Terry Cutcliffe
Line Dancer 2: Jola Jones
Line Dancer 3: Frank Lesha

"Starry Starry Night" by Don McLean performed by Craig Bush

" Nightminds" by Missy Higgins performed by Amy Mines

Original Music Soundtract

John Gauci & John Carr

Juan Carlos Rios

Copyright © NSWCAG 2017. All rights reserved.