The Paradox of Self-Stigma and Mental Illness


Address correspondence to Patrick Corrigan, University of Chicago Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, 7230 Arbor Drive, Tinley Park, IL 60477. E-mail:


Published narratives by persons with serious mental illness eloquently describe the harmful effects of stigma on self-esteem and self-efficacy. However, a more careful review of the research literature suggests a paradox; namely, personal reactions to the stigma of mental illness may result in significant loss in self-esteem for some, while others are energized by prejudice and express righteous anger. Added to this complexity is a third group: persons who neither lose self-esteem nor become righteously angry at stigma, instead seemingly ignoring the effects of public prejudice altogether. This article draws on research from social psychologists on self-stigma in other minority groups to explain this apparent paradox. We describe a situational model of the personal response to mental illness stigma based on the collective representations that are primed in that situation, the person's perception of the legitimacy of stigma in the situation, and the person's identification with the larger group of individuals with mental illness. Implications for a research program on the personal response to mental illness stigma are discussed.