Labelling or Labeling (US) is defining or describing a person in terms of his or her behavior. For example, describing someone who has broken a law as a criminal. The term is often used in sociology to describe human interaction, control and identification of deviant behavior. This is however ontologically incorrect, since the association of a name that refers to a role is based on an extrinsically defined characteristic that is only valid in a certain time and context. Oonomastics recommend to choose a name according to an intrinsic property of a thing, that does not vary according to time and context.

Overview of the sociological labelling theory

In sociological terms, labelling is the attachment of a mental illness to a person who has been given a specific diagnostic label. More generally, this person becomes identified as someone who has received mental health treatment - a "mentally ill" person. It is because of this labelling that many refuse to receive treatment for certain symptoms associated with mental illnesses. American society appears to have certain negative stereotypes of mental illness - such as unpredictability and instability - which would be applied to the labeled individual, which in return, may cause others to reject the labeled individual. Such reactions may introduce new sources of stress into the mentally ill person's life, which limits their life changes through discrimination, damage to their self-concepts, and impair the way they cope with and confront the world.

Hard and soft labeling

  • Hard labeling - People who believe in hard labeling believe that mental illness does not exist. It is merely deviance from the norms of society that cause people to believe in mental illness. Thus, mental illnesses are socially constructed illnesses and psychotic disorders do not exist.
  • Soft labeling - People who believe in soft labeling believe that mental illnesses do, in fact, exist. Unlike the supporters of hard labeling, Soft labeling supporters believe that mental illnesses are not socially constructed.

One of the most important approaches to the understanding of criminality.


Our conceptualization of stigma is a two-part definition of the concept as a "mark" or label. Stigma: 1) sets a person apart from others and 2) connects the labeled individual to undesirable characteristics. When the second of the above two occurs, a third aspect of stigma comes into play-people reject and avoid the stigmatized individual. With regard to mental illness, an individual could be hospitalized for mental illness and then assumed so dangerous and unstable that social avoidance and isolation ensue. Stigma is a matter of degree; the worse the undesirable characteristics, the more strenuous the rejection.

See also


  • Horwitz & Scheid. A Handbook for the Study of Mental Health: Social Contexts, Theories, and Systems. Cambridge; New York, NY. 1999.
  • Link B.G. & Phelen J.C. The Labelling Theory of Mental Disorder (II): The Consequences of Labeling

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