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Mental Illness Stigma

Sport, Mental Illness, and Sociology

ISBN: 978-1-78743-470-7, eISBN: 978-1-78743-469-1

Publication date: 14 December 2018



This chapter responds to calls to “reclaim” the work of Erving Goffman, and specifically his conceptualization of stigma, arguing that Goffman’s ideas can inform a critical social theory of mental illness in sport. The analysis pays particular attention to the challenges to social identity for those experiencing mental illness stigma, the role of personal identity in negotiating mental illness stigma, and strategies for stigma reduction including the adoption of stigma symbols.


The first section of the chapter revisits the concept of stigma, before proceeding to relate this to mental illness stigma as applied to sport. The second section overviews several high-profile cases of mental illness stigma of elite athletes, before presenting some examples of campaigns to address the perceived stigma related to mental health issues in sport.


The chapter proposes that Goffman’s work maintains relevance when related to social contexts other than those directly observed by him, and that the conceptualization of stigma helps understanding of, and challenges to, mental illness stigma in sport.


While sport continues to be proposed as an arena for positive character development, analysis informed by the work of Erving Goffman demonstrates that the culture of sport provides a context within which athletes experiencing mental health issues may be stigmatized. This, in turn, undermines the potential for them to secure the health care that they need, with participation and performance often taking precedence over well-being, even in the campaigns ostensibly designed to address mental illness stigma.



Pike, E.C.J. (2018), "Mental Illness Stigma", Sport, Mental Illness, and Sociology (Research in the Sociology of Sport, Vol. 11), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 9-22.



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