Start by asking students if they know what the word “stigma” means or if they have ever heard the word “stigma” being used before. If so, ask students to share their definition of stigma, or to identify the context in which the word was used.
Once students have had the opportunity to share, clarify that stigma involves “a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something or someone”. Explain that stigmatizing beliefs tend to leave the targeted group feeling less valued, less worthy, insecure, and alone.
Now that students understand stigma, take a couple of minutes to identify groups of people who have been stigmatized (either historically or presently). Examples may include people of colour, different religious groups, people with different abilities, people with mental illnesses, and people from lower socio-economic status communities, to name a few. For every group of people that are identified, ask students to provide an example of the stigmatizing beliefs the group has experienced/is experiencing.
In the last five minutes, narrow in on mental health stigma. Make a list of student’s responses to the following question: What are some of your beliefs about people who have a mental illness? The most common stigmatizing beliefs that the general public holds about people living with mental illness include, but are not limited to, them being violent, crazy, untrustworthy, homeless, incompetent, and/or a failure. Before moving on to the full lesson, let students know that these stigmatizing beliefs and ideas are rarely true. They are a single story about mental illness.