The Stigma of Mental Illness

Studies show that only about half of all individuals with a mental illness receive help for their conditions. Many factors keep them from seeking the treatment they need and deserve. There’s no denying that society has stereotyped views about mental illness and how it impacts those who have it. One reason people with a mental illness avoid or delay getting help is because of the stigma attached to seeking mental health treatment. Stigmas can be subtle or obvious, but either way, they still result in harm.

What Causes the Stigma of Mental Illness?

Multiple studies found that many Americans accept the medical or genetic nature of mental health disorders as well as the need for resources and treatment. Still, those with mental illness are viewed in a negative light.

Fear or a lack of understanding frequently contributes to stigmas in general. For some, stigma is created by the perception that the person who has a mental illness can simply snap out of it, but they choose not to. Uncertainty about and the unpredictability of the mental illness of a friend or family member can increase stigma and avoidance. Early beliefs about the causes of mental health issues such as demonic or spiritual possession are another cause. Television shows, movies, and the media also contribute to the stigma.

The Negative Impacts

The stigma surrounding mental health has many negative impacts. It can lead to the underfunding of mental health research compared to other health issues, reduced charitable fundraising, and a lack of support for local mental health services.

Other harmful effects include:

  • Reluctance to pursue help or treatment and decreased chances of continuing treatment
  • Limited life opportunities
  • Social isolation
  • Lack of understanding from family, friends, coworkers, or others
  • Decreased opportunities for employment, education, social activities, or even trouble finding a place to live
  • Physical violence, bullying, or harassment
  • Health insurance that doesn’t sufficiently pay for mental illness treatment
  • The belief that you can’t overcome certain challenges or that you can’t  improve your circumstances

How You Can Reduce the Stigma

Knowing or having regular contact with someone who has a mental illness is one of the most effective ways to decrease stigma. Those who speak out and share their stories and experiences can have a profound impact. Knowing someone with a mental illness causes it to be less scary and more real and relatable.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides several suggestions about how you can work to reduce the stigma of mental illness, including:

  • Talking about mental health
  • Sharing about mental health on social media
  • Educating yourself and others
  • Responding to negative comments or misperceptions with experiences and facts
  • Paying attention to the words you say and reminding others that words matter
  • Viewing physical and mental illness equally and encouraging others to do the same
  • Normalizing mental health treatment as not different than other health care treatment
  • Showing compassion for individuals battling mental illness
  • Telling the media if they are using stigmatizing language in stories about mental illness
  • Choosing empowerment instead of shame by not allowing anyone else to determine how you feel about yourself

Together, we can work towards eliminating the stigma of mental illnesses. By doing this, we can create an environment where people feel safe to reach out for help. When they get the help that they need, not only do they benefit but also society.

If you are struggling with a mental health condition please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

If you would like to help support those who are seeking mental health treatment please donate so we can help individuals get the help they deserve.


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