Stigma and Discrimination

NAMI condemns all acts of stigma and discrimination directed against people living with mental illness, whether by intent, ignorance, or insensitivity. Epithets, nicknames, jokes, advertisements, and slurs that refer to individuals with mental illness in a stigmatizing way are cruel. NAMI considers acts of stigma to be discrimination. Stigma reflects prejudice, dehumanizes people with mental illness, trivializes their legitimate concerns, and is a significant barrier to effective delivery of mental health services. Because of stigma, individuals and families are often afraid to seek help; health care providers are often poorly-trained to refer people to mental health professionals and/or mental health practitioners, and services are too often inadequately funded.

NAMI believes, in accordance with current scientific evidence, that people who are receiving appropriate treatment and services for a mental illness are no more violent than the population at large. NAMI deplores the portrayal in literature, films, and television of individuals with mental illness as being prone to violence. These frequent depictions are degrading stereotypes and reinforce societal prejudices that serve as impediments to recovery. The truth is that individuals with serious mental illnesses are more often the victims of violence than perpetrators.

NAMI further believes that, in accordance with current scientific evidence, mental illness is essentially biological in nature sometimes triggered by environmental factors such as trauma, countering the myth that these conditions are failures of character and will. Mental illness affects behavior and behavior can affect mental illness, but mental illnesses are not behavioral. The term “behavioral health” obscures the reality of the need of millions of Americans for timely, effective treatment, particularly of co-occurring mental health and substance abuse conditions. Also, because behavior is perceived as a matter of choice (“good” or “bad” behavior), the very term “behavioral health” can add to the stigma and discrimination endured by people living with a mental illness.

NAMI especially deplores the exploitation of individuals living with mental illness by journalists, advertisers, advertising agencies, the entertainment industry, and others for commercial gain or other advantage.

Stigma and resulting discrimination can be an especially prevalent challenge in the military services, the National Guard and Reserves. Some mental health conditions do occur in the context of traumatic exposures to war, and some personnel first become ill with a mental illness during the term of their service. Mental illness must not be allowed to stigmatize, and receiving treatment should not limit opportunities for continued military service and advancement. Soldiers who experience mental health conditions should be encouraged to seek help.