How To Banish Negative Stigma, According to Prince William

Not only do many with mental illness have to struggle against their disease, they also must grapple on a daily basis with misconceptions of mental illness and discrimination against those who have it. There are two types of stigma against mental illness — both of which are most commonly held in the United States and Western Europe: self-stigma and public stigma.


There are generally two ways in which those with mental illnesses usually react to the stigma against their mental illness — dropping self-esteem, or righteous anger. A third small group reacts with simple indifference. The only problem here is the group who internalizes the stigma and experiences diminished self-esteem. This group largely feels this drop as a result of the second kind of stigma — public stigma.

A group of gummy bears excluding one of their kind
Photo courtesy of Black Isle Group

Exclusion from society is one of the most harmful effects of public stigma.

Public Stigma

Public stigma occurs when the general population, as well as even some informed professionals, have stigmatizing attitude about mental illness. This often takes three forms:

  1. Fear and exclusion: People with mental illnesses are associated with violent acts, and therefore should be shunned from society.
  2. Authoritarianism: Those with mental illnesses are incapable of taking care of themselves, so others should make major life decisions for them.
  3. Benevolence: Those with mental illnesses are framed as children and treated as such.

A child looking dejected with a teddy bear

People with severe mental issues are sometimes viewed and treated as children, which, far from being caring or understanding, is a form of public stigma.

The overarching theme is that those with mental illnesses are seen as responsible for their disability, and are thus shunned or otherwise punished. This can lead to the withholding of help from groups who need it, or social avoidance, wherein society attempts to steer clear of those with mental illness altogether. This can lead to issues in obtaining a good job or leasing housing. While this is a major problem, it is not unfixable, and one of the best way to combat it is through better public awareness.

Prince William speaking at the World Economic Forum
Photo courtesy of People

As well as condemning stigma, Prince William also spoke briefly about his own struggle in talking about his mental health.

Prince William on Stigma

Prince William spoke out about the issue of stigma in mental health at World Economic Forum on Jan. 23, encouraging people to talk about their problems and seek help. Interestingly, he related society’s general dislike for speaking about mental health problems back to “the war,” though not specifying World War I or II.

Perhaps the “Keep Calm and Carry On” attitude is carrying on into today, which has allowed such a large amount of public stigma against mental health to build. While there is no empirical evidence of this, it is a plausible theory considering that the World Wars have affected modern society in many other ways.

Either way, by speaking about mental health, Prince William is taking advantage of the large audience he is given as a member of the royal family to break down public stigma. Perhaps his speech changed one mind, perhaps it changed many, but it is one step forward in the ongoing fight against mental health stigma. Remember, you never have to be ashamed of your mental illness, and don’t hesitate to ask for help.

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