Quotes on Mental Illness Stigma

Matthew Quick: "The problem with the stigma around mental health is really the stories that we tell ourselves as a society"

Stigma is a big deal for those of us dealing with mental health issues. I’ve written about it in my latest book, A Brief History of Stigma, but there are a lot of other people talking about it too. Here are some great quotes on mental illness stigma that I’ve come across.

The problem with the stigma around mental health is really about the stories that we tell ourselves as a society.

Matthew Quick, author of The Silver Linings Playbook

The mentally ill frighten and embarrass us. And so we marginalize the people who most need our acceptance. What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversation.

Glenn Close

Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increase the burden: It is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken’.

C.S. Lewis

It’s so common, it could be anyone. The trouble is, nobody wants to talk about it. And that makes everything worse.

Ruby Wax

This disease comes with a package: shame. When any other part of your body gets sick, you get sympathy.

Ruby Wax

Ruby Wax has also done a TED Talk about stigma.


Stigma against mental illness is a scourge with many faces, and the medical community wears a number of those faces.

Elyn R. Saks

No one would ever say that someone with a broken arm or a broken leg is less than a whole person, but people say that or imply that all the time about people with mental illness.

Elyn R. Saks

For more from Elyn Saks, check out her TED Talk.


Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.

Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton: "Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all."

You can find more quotes in these posts:

Book cover: A Brief History of Stigma by Ashley L. Peterson

My latest book, A Brief History of Stigma, looks at the nature of stigma, the contexts in which it occurs, and how to challenge it most effectively.

You can find it on Amazon and Google Play.

37 thoughts on “Quotes on Mental Illness Stigma”

  1. Ooo these are good. I like Glenn Close, I’m glad she came out with an excellent comment on mental illness stigma. And Bill Clinton’s quote is short, sweet and poignant, because the stigma problem really is shameful and very damaging.

    Great selection, Ashley. And I love the designs of your quote images 😊 xx

    1. Great quotes – thanks! I like Glenn Close’s statement too. Her sister has some form of mental illness. Can’t recall if bipolar or not. Once again, I think it takes having a close friend or family member to “truly get it” when it comes to stigma. Sorry to say…..

  2. I definitely fear the stigma even though I know better. I was struggling really bad at work under stress and my mood was being pushed to the limit. But I was too shy to tell my supervisor I have mood issues because I was afraid they’ll just tell me to get over it.

  3. Unfortunately, we live in a world where difference is bad–whether it be physical or emotional. Until we can learn to accept and even celebrate difference, stigma will flourish. Thanks for a thought-provoking collection of quotes.

  4. People do not like what they can’t understand…. they never have. Nor what they cannot see. Yet there are many things around us we cannot see like the wind, but we can feel it. But the very fact there is stigma surrounding something surely makes it real.

    I wonder what people get out of spreading mental illness stigma. Do they feel above it all?

    If you have to defame or put down anyone in any way spreading rumour, stigma etc, you only show what a horrible human being you are.

    1. When it comes to popular Hollywood productions irresponsibly stereotyping/stigmatizing people living with very serious mental illness, especially schizophrenia, I found the 2008 box-office-hit movie The Dark Knight (as overall entertaining as it was) to be a textbook example.

      In one memorable scene, the glorified Batman character recklessly erroneously grumbles to the district attorney character Harvey Dent that the sinisterly-sneering clearly-conscience-lacking murderer he has handcuffed to a wheeled stretcher is “a paranoid schizophrenic — exactly the kind of mind that the Joker attracts.”

      We had entered the third millennium, yet a 4/4-star-rated Hollywood hit movie could still be readily found flagrantly demonizing mentally ill characters. Where was the societal condemnation?

      For a more accurate perspective on the illness, Schizophrenia.com states, “People with schizophrenia are far more likely to harm themselves than be violent toward the public. Violence is not a symptom of schizophrenia.” Also, these poor souls are more likely to be victims of violence than its perpetrators.

      1. I have a more accurate description of a paranoid schizophrenia case, because my brother has it.

        He is nothing like what one would see on that film. Not anywhere near close…

        Hollywood has a lot to answer for. As well as many of its actors too.

        Although the films are often entertaining to watch, when it comes to mental illness they rarely get it right. But then the film industries job is to make something entertaining and to make money. So we can’t exactly get our learning about mental illness from there.

        I prefer documentaries for that type of thing.

        1. Also, unlike with the loud and apparently effective voices lobbying Big Entertainment against stereotyping characters based on color, sexuality, gender and even gender bending, there’s no comparable protest voice against mental-illness stereotyped characters. I think it’s called the squeaky-wheel effect.

  5. I’ve found there is still too much platitudinous lip-service towards proactive mental illness prevention for males, as well as treatment. Various media will state the obvious, that society must open up its collective minds and common dialogue when it comes to far more progressively addressing the challenge of more fruitfully treating and preventing such illness in general; however, they will typically fail to address the problem of ill men, or even boys, refusing to open up and/or ask for help due to their fear of being perceived by peers, etcetera, as weak/non-masculine.

    The social ramifications exist all around us; indeed, it is endured, however silently, by males of/with whom we are aware/familiar or to whom so many of us are closely related. (The suicide of the late actor and comedian Robin Williams comes to my mind.)

    Even in this day and age, there remains a mentality out there, albeit perhaps subconsciously: Men can take care of themselves, and boys often are basically little men. It could be the same mentality that might help explain why the book Childhood Disrupted was only able to include one man among its six interviewed adult subjects, there presumably being such a small pool of ACE-traumatized men willing to formally tell his own story of childhood abuse. Could it be evidence of a continuing subtle societal take-it-like-a-man mindset? One in which so many men, even with anonymity, would prefer not to ‘complain’ to some stranger/author about his torturous childhood, as that is what ‘real men’ do? (I tried multiple times contacting the book’s author via internet websites in regards to this non-addressed fluorescent elephant in the room, but I received no response.)

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