Addressing the Stigma of Mental Health

October 9, 2023

According to the American Psychiatric Association, the stigma of mental illness is universal. A 2016 study on stigma concluded "there is no country, society or culture where people with mental illness have the same societal value as people without mental illness."

Although more than half of people with mental illness don’t receive help. People often avoid or delay receiving help due to concerns of being treated differently or fear of loss of a job and livelihood. Therefore, the stigma against people with mental health remains a big problem.

What are the Facts on Stigma, Prejudice and Discrimination?

Stigma often comes from lack of understanding or fear. Inaccurate or misleading media representations of mental illness contribute to both of these factors. A review of studies on stigma shows that while the public may accept the medical or genetic nature of a mental health disorder and the need for treatment, many people still have a negative view of those with mental illness.

Researchers identify three different types of stigma:

  1. Public stigma involves the negative or discriminatory attitudes that others have about mental illness.
  2. Self-stigma refers to the negative attitudes, including internalized shame that people with mental illness have about their own condition.
  3. Institutional stigma, is more systemic, involving policies of government and private organizations that intentionally or unintentionally limit opportunities for people with mental illness. Examples include lower funding for mental illness research or fewer mental health services relative to other health care.

The stigma around mental illness, especially in some diverse racial and ethnic communities can be a major barrier to people from those cultures accessing mental health services. For example, in some Asian cultures, seeking professional help for mental illness may be counter to cultural values of strong family, emotional restraint and avoiding shame. Among some groups, including the African American communities, distrust of the mental healthcare system can also be a barrier to seeking help.

Overcoming the Stigma of Mental Health

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers some suggestions about what we can do as individuals to help reduce the stigma of mental illness:

  1. Talk openly about mental health, such as sharing on social media.Educate yourself and others – respond to misperceptions or negative comments by sharing facts and experiences.
  2. Be conscious of language – remind people that words matter. Encourage equality between physical and mental illness – draw comparisons to how they would treat someone with cancer or diabetes.
  3. Show compassion for those with mental illness. Be honest about treatment – normalize mental health treatment, just like other health care treatment.
  4. Let the media know when they are using stigmatizing language presenting stories of mental illness in a stigmatizing way.
  5. Choose empowerment over shame – Everyone struggles with something, own your life by owing your story and refuse to accept negative viewpoints of others.  

Research shows that one of the best ways of overcoming the stigma of metal health is knowing or having contact with someone with mental illness. When we know someone with mental illness, it becomes less daunting and more tangible and relatable. Speaking out and sharing your story can have a positive impact, as people are looking for personal stories in which they relate. 

A 2020 national survey of 14- to 22-year-olds found that 90 percent of teens and young adults experiencing symptoms of depression are researching mental health issues online, are accessing other people's health stories through blogs, podcasts, and videos. About three in four young teens seeking information online about depression said they were looking for personal anecdotes from people who had suffered in the past.

If you need help overcoming past trauma, abuse or neglect. Mirror Images Texas equips men and women with tools for healing and recovery, in a group setting. Take the first step to overcoming the stigma of mental health by contacting us today. We’re here and ready to help!