Mental health discrimination (Review of a challenge)

In the next short review, we will explore the complicated issue of mental health discrimination and the consequences it brings to those affected. 

Mental health discrimination

Mental health discrimination is basically when a person treats you badly or negatively because you have a mental illness. The problem is that discrimination has the potential to make mental health disorders even worse and prevent people from seeking help. As you can see, there are consequences at the individual level and in terms of public health. 

Stigma, why?

Mental health discrimination is a problem that has existed for a very long time, and we could even go back to ancient history when there was no good understanding of mental health and people were treated as if they had been possessed by some demon. Many people died because of this, as there was not enough knowledge to give proper treatment. 

It is possible that some religions have and/or have had some role in the development of stigma towards people with mental illness, as beliefs related to demons, possessions, etc., are derived from them. However, this would require a detailed historical analysis in order to be more clearly determined.

Even today, when there is a better (but still more work to be done) understanding of mental health and its possible disorders, people with mental illness are often treated negatively for having such illnesses. Discrimination can occur in everyday life and even in professional and health care settings. 

High prevalence of mental illness in the UK

Mental health discrimination becomes an even greater problem when the prevalence figures for mental illness are known, as they are high. According to the Mental Health Foundation (UK), the figures are as follows: 

  • Out of four people, one will experience some form of a mental health-related problem at some point in his or her life. 
  • Out of 10 children, approximately one will experience some form of mental health impairment. 
  • In the specific case of depression, it affects one in twelve people in the total population. 
  • Self-harm rates in the UK have been found to be the highest in Europe. 
  • Around 450 million people worldwide have some impairment in their mental health.

As can be seen from the figures above, mental health problems are very common and prevalent, so it is highly likely that a person will have contact with others who have or have had a mental health problem, which in some way makes them susceptible to discrimination. 

It is known that most people who suffer from mental illness recover completely, or are able to manage their problems in such a way that they can continue their lives under relatively normal conditions. This is especially true if they have access to early treatment. 

Early treatment and discrimination 

Mental health discrimination is a very serious problem when you think about the importance of getting proper treatment early. If there is a high level of social stigma towards people with mental illness, it will be more difficult for affected people to take the initiative to ask for help in this regard. They may want to keep their experience a secret because this will have negative consequences. 

Conversely, when a society prepares adequately for mental health care and, culturally, people learn that these problems are common and that this does not make people less valuable, the process of care and recovery is much better. That way the person could access their treatment early without so much fear. 

Mental health discrimination: types of discrimination 

When a person has a mental illness, given the high degree of discrimination, he or she will face more problems than a person who has no illness or who has an illness other than a mental illness. 

Among such difficulties are the following: 

  • People who have a mental illness have greater difficulty in finding a job. When they are identified, employers often lower their priority list and see them as undesirable or “incomplete”. Do we really want to promote this kind of action as a society?
  • Mental health discrimination also has consequences for people’s personal and intimate lives. For those who have a mental illness, it is much more difficult to be in a calm, stable, long-term relationship. They encounter different difficulties that prevent them from creating a connection with another person, and therefore getting into a relationship is almost utopian. 
  • Getting decent housing is also difficult for people who suffer from mental illness. As mentioned, they have great problems getting a job, so it is not surprising that they also have difficulty getting a decent place to live. 
  • Last but not least, mental health discrimination also has a negative impact on the possibility of being included in wider social circles. Humans are social beings by nature, so it is very important for us to have the possibility to share our experiences with other people, as well as to explore new things with them. 

All of this is generated, in part, because there are a number of misconceptions about people with mental illness and their behavior. For example, it is common for people to think that those who have a mental illness are more dangerous and/or violent than people who do not have a mental illness. 

This is true even though it is known that, in fact, people with mental illness are more vulnerable to harm than others, and in fact, they are often more dangerous to themselves than to others. As you can see, these are misguided beliefs that make it difficult for people with mental illness to be included in everyday life. 

Mental health discrimination: a cycle of illness

Given the negative consequences of mental health discrimination, it has been found that a cycle can be generated from which these people can hardly escape. In principle, people are diagnosed with a mental illness, and given the stigma, they are often slow to seek help and find professional assistance. 

For a start, there is a problem when people do not receive adequate treatment early on. Thus, their mental health problems can get worse and they have not yet received treatment. Later, given their problems, it becomes more difficult for them to get a job and be included in social circles, and they may be at high risk of poverty and isolation. 

This again makes it difficult to access adequate treatment and the symptoms and problems of the person continue to worsen. As a result, their quality of life continues to decline and it becomes even more difficult to achieve all that the average human being seeks and is entitled to. 

Thus, a cycle is generated that seems endless. When a person is in this state, it is very difficult for him to get out of it, since he will need even more assistance than he needed when he could have received early treatment. 

An example

Imagine that you have a highly disabling mental illness, and you have no one around you to help. There is no information, no close guidance to help you feel better; it is a very threatening situation. Imagine that you are afraid to tell any of your family members because you fear their reaction and what they will think of you. 

Then you try to find help on your own, and by the time you do, it has been too long, your problems have actually become more difficult than they were in the beginning. Imagine that you start your treatment and your employer decides to fire you because they don’t want a “mental illness” at the company.

After that, because you are afraid and don’t know what to do, you end up leaving your job because the situation is becoming more and more uncomfortable. You start having financial problems, the money is running out and you don’t know what to do. In addition to worrying about finding a new job, money is not enough to get the right treatment.

Mental health discrimination: media is not helping at all

As mentioned above, the core of the problem is all those misguided beliefs about the nature of mental illness and its consequences. At this point, the media make the situation worse when they report violent or aggressive acts by people with mental illness, making it seem as if they are very common when they are not.

What to do in this scenario? 

Given all that was mentioned above, the question that arises is what actions can be taken to help this situation improve and decrease discrimination against people with mental illness. 

One way to fight discrimination has been found to be to create spaces where people can be in contact with those who suffer from mental illness.  Having the space to live together, ask questions, share fears, generate questioning, listen to experiences, can generate tranquility and empathy, which helps to decrease discrimination.

As with other cases, a central part of the problem with discrimination in mental health is that people perceive an unbridgeable difference between them. Sometimes it seems that they are different species. When these kinds of misconceptions are addressed, the picture can be significantly improved. 


Mental health discrimination is a serious problem that must be addressed. As it could be seen, it generates problems both on an individual level (because the people affected suffer a series of negative consequences that prevent them from leading a dignified and peaceful life) and on a collective level. Mental health discrimination generates public health problems since it can result in a decrease in the rate of care when people need it. 

Fighting discrimination will necessarily have to do with the commitment of the parties to know “the other side of the story”, to know the person who has been hidden behind a set of wrong beliefs and stigma. 

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about mental health discrimination  

What are the 7 types of discrimination?

The seven best-known types of discrimination are: marital status, industrial activity, gender identity, and sexual orientation discrimination, employment activity, disability discrimination of any kind, age discrimination, and parental or caregiver status. 

Can you discriminate against mental illness?

It is illegal for employers to discriminate against someone because of a mental health problem they have. Such discrimination may include firing, refusing to do a job, avoiding a promotion, or forcing a person to leave. 

What is an unfair treatment called?

If you have been treated unfairly because of who you are or your characteristics, this may be called discrimination and has been made illegal. Anyone who has done so could face legal problems for that reason.

What is discrimination in mental health?

Discrimination in mental health is any time you have been treated negatively or unfairly because of your condition as a mental patient. This can be related to activities of daily living such as getting a job, getting or staying somewhere, or being included in a social group.

Is anxiety a protected disability?

Under certain circumstances and depending on existing legislation, an anxiety disorder that results in serious limitations to your functioning may be considered a disability.

  1. The Equality Act 2010 in Mental Health: A Guide to Implementation and Issues for Practice
  2. Racism and Mental Health: Prejudice and Suffering
  3. A Managers Guide To Mental Health In The Work Place
  4. From Psychiatric Patient to Citizen Revisited (Foundations of Mental Health Practice)


  1. Shunned: Discrimination against people with mental illness
  2. Mental Illness, Discrimination and the Law: Fighting for Social Justice
  3. Perceptions of positive treatment and discrimination towards people with mental health problems: Findings from the 2017 Attitudes to Mental Illness survey