9 Ways to Fight Mental Health Stigma

By Laura Greenstein | Oct. 26, 2015

Stigma is one of the most challenging aspects of living with a mental health condition. It causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control and prevents many from seeking the help they need and speaking out. In order to address this problem, we asked our Facebook community, “What is the best way to end stigma?” Here are some of the responses we received:

  1. Talk openly about mental health. “Mental illness touches so many lives and yet it's STILL a giant secret. Be brave and share your story.” –Lindsey Watkin Lason
  2. Educate yourself and others about mental health. “Challenge people respectfully when they are perpetrating stereotypes and misconceptions. Speak up and educate them.” –Yvonne Lucas
  3. Be conscious of your language. “Saying someone is "retarded" or using (or even mentioning) the "N" word is politically incorrect, but it's still fine to throw around words like crazy, psycho, lunatic, etc.” –Michele Croston
  4. Encourage equality in how people perceive physical illness and mental illness. “We should explain mental illness as similar to any other illness. When someone acts differently or "strange" during diabetic shock we don't blame them for moral failings.” –William Newbill
  5. Show empathy and compassion for those living with a mental health condition. “Love, we can all use more education, but that will not make people change their opinions. When you love and respect people, love and respect all of them. You have a desire to learn more about who they are and what their life is like.” –Megan Wright Bowman
  6. Stop the criminalization of those who live with mental illness. “Professionals and families together need to talk to neighborhood groups, law enforcement, hospitals and legal experts to share experiences and knowledge on interacting with mentally ill.” –Valerie E. Johnson
  7. Push back against the way people who live with mental illness are portrayed in the media: “Push back hard against the media and politicians and pundits that simply deflect real social issues such as gun control to the realm of "psychos" causing mass shootings.” –Michele Croston
  8. See the person, not the illness: “Talk about your family and friends with mental illnesses any time a conversation invites the opportunity; with an open heart, love, and real information about the real human being that they are; they are not their condition.” –Sheryl Schaffner
  9. Advocate for mental health reform. “It's empowering people whenever and wherever you can. It's also writing legislators. It's also talking in front of a board of commissioners to advocate for continued mental health funding… It's doing the right thing and treating others justly.” –Danielle Hoover

Stigma is not something that will go away on its own, but if we work together as a community, we can change the way we perceive mental illness in our society. Do your part by pledging to be stigmafree today.

patty jones
i am trying to find out what is causing my mental illness.
12/20/2016 12:41:28 AM

I believe that excellence is the solution to the problem of stigma. While society may frown at those who have symptoms, everyone admires those who are excellent at something including those who are mentally ill. If the media showed people with mental illnesses who also display excellence then society would wake up. Many can triumph despite the adversity.
10/1/2016 11:22:42 AM

Can I use this image in a blog about stigma if I provide a link to the site and credit?
4/27/2016 11:16:35 AM

satvinder Deep Singh
Hello Friends,
Well we are not alone, 1st we should understand this. come and travel to India, you must see the power of get over your Mental illness. I my self suffer a lot since years, but there are places where you can go and Meditate , lots of people do this and you would amazed to see the result.
Medical can help to remove or reduce the effect but i believe that some places are invented too by Human Guru to remove this forever.
I am Sikh from New Delhi, and i want to help or consult society to reduce the effect of mental illness.
If you want to really belief this travel to Gurudwara Bangal Sahib, in New Delhi, you will see the power of Guru and Gurbani to reduce or remove your illness forever.
Belief is word which should come out from your heart ...
Satvinder Deep Singh.
Note : Every name have Meaning to It ( Search your self )
2/27/2016 11:29:03 PM

I wonder if it would be helpful for us psychologically and socially in overcoming stigma if we would not only advocate for ourselves in terms of legislation and access to needed resources but if we would also join forces with some other stigmatized group, Syrian refugees for example. If we showed our own capacity for compassion maybe people would warm up to us!
1/1/2016 11:14:50 AM

Something that is helpful for me in dealing with stigma is to remind myself that we are not unique in being stigmatized. For example, my brother in law does not have a college degree. Everyone in my family has a bachelors degree and most of us a masters. My sister, his wife, is a lawyer. It is obvious that my father thinks he is just lazy and lacks ambition. The truth is that he has ADD that went undiagnosed until he graduated (barely) from his catholic high school. He is clearly dealing with self stigma. There are many groups that are stigmatized - minorities, imigrants, refugees, Muslims, just to name a few. It helps me to know that I am not alone in having to cope with stigma.
1/1/2016 10:55:38 AM

Caroline Storm
I am still overwhelmed by the outrageous stigma coming from the RANZCP. In a position paper on "End of life choices" in 2011, it states "The College believes that unrelievable psychological suffering is rare" ! The College ignores our some 5,500 severely mentally ill who each year decide their acute depressive pain can be relieved only by death...certainly it is not being relieved by doctors who deny it exists!!
12/28/2015 2:36:36 AM

John Anderson
Mental health stigma is of great interest to me personally. I have a diagnosis and work as a mental health professional in a regional city in Queensland. Seriously, I believe that we should feel sympathetic to those people who hold a stigma against people with a mental health diagnosis. By their avoidance of persons with mental illness, they are losing the opportunity to gain the benefits of knowing these people, many of whom are talented, interesting people. This avoidance behaviour of these stigmatisers (have I just invented a new word?) reminds me of the diagnosis of Simple Phobia, a very common mental health condition, and the stigmatisers (that word again) appear to have this condition, but lack insight into their mental health problem. Education about the subject of their phobia and gradual introduction to the source of their phobia to allow them to get used to us. They need our help!
12/22/2015 10:57:48 PM

I'm going to suggest something that may not be popular but I think it needs to be said. I have Bipolar 1 disorder and have attempted suicide once and been hospitalized 3 times. A brain is a unique organ. It doesn't just affect how we feel it affects who we are. It affects how we act, how we perceive, how we feel physically and emotionally, and how we respond to our environment. A mental illness is not just a physical illness. It is different. It is not like diabetes. It is a brain disease. It should be given it's own category as a subcategory of physical disorders. That is just my feeling. It offends me when people compare my illness with diabetes or hormonal balances resulting from menopause. You might as well compare it to chicken pox. I think we should be open about our suffering. Don't pretend your manic episodes are simply "feelings of euphoria" or your depressive episodes "feeling down or unmotivated" (my psychiatrists words). They are not. I also object to media representations of healthy, happy well-adjusted people who have this underlying invisible condition called a mental illness. It is not underlying, it is not invisible, and it is not simply physical.
12/16/2015 2:42:18 PM

stigma can start from a psychiatrist who gives an incorrect diagnosis (opinion) -- and then people shun you because of the lie
11/11/2015 8:16:33 PM

During divorce proceeding one of the arguments of my former spouse was the need for significant compensation due to my mental illness. I had to accept a draconian settlement to avoid the court trial. I would have had no difficulties with my Psychiatrist giving his professional opinion of my symptoms or actions but, this is not what the apposing attorney wanted or would accept. The strategy was to embarrass me to my friends, family, and community and shock the jury with the sordid details of my actions during manic episodes to move the attention away from the nature of the illness. Without societal knowledge of the illness as equivalent to any other physician illness, it ensured this strategy will prevail. No one blames a cancer patient when they either respond only partially or do not respond to medication. I lost my career, my insurance and 2/3 of my assets, (I was dept free and had a credit score of 800, now its 0, and am now on disability),and am forced to continue to pay excessive alimony. Why did HIPPA not protect me? HIPPA is a federal law designed to protect a patient's medical records but, state courts usurp this law and force mental health sufferers to reveal all the actions that they themselves suffer greatly from the memory of for monetary gain for those they appose. I bet I'm not alone in this situation. Anyone familiar with reasonable and legally sound recourse?
11/10/2015 3:24:01 PM

Tom Roberts
Talk about mental health.

Unless you're making a joke on Modern Family.

No humor allowed for people suffering with mental illness.
11/4/2015 11:14:32 PM

Janice Webb
I worked for a place in Oklahoma called NORCE , we were not allowed to say retard, or stupid, things like this make me furious it is like being called a "*****" even though a child born out of wedlock is the last meaning to this word, the polite way of calling someone who most people call stupid or retard is someone who is mentally challenged. I believe that if people who say these things would think before they speak, it would help the people who are being labeled for something they can help in being. How would you like being called that?
11/4/2015 10:00:44 PM

Beth W
I have also spent years trying to hide my sadness to all around me. I still feel like my close family and friends really, truly doesn't understand. I still feel the stigma, that is why I really hope together we all can work to change it! It has taken me a long time to realize this blackness we live with is actually like any other illness. My prayer is that it will be someday accepted.
11/1/2015 11:58:16 PM

Barbara Blythe-Arends
I am interested in the new field of mental health and ecology.
11/1/2015 7:03:53 AM

Barbara Blythe-Arends
Nami Staff:

I am in a quandary because my daughter is mentally ill but as an adult she can make her own
decisions. So information is denied the family who loves her. It seems to be a form of
"mentalhealthism" The word mental health should be brought out of the darkness and a new
ideology and concern and legislation be brought to light.
11/1/2015 6:59:16 AM

Unfortunately, the stigmas are out there and we can o it do our best to have others empathize, not sympathize. Let's band together and BringChange2Mind. Knowledge has been so powerful for me while dealing with this. I encourage all and any feedback, prayers, and advice on what others have used. Be well! Thanks for sharing!
10/30/2015 9:23:07 AM

Sandy Schnur
I just figured it out!
10/30/2015 8:19:18 AM

Sandy Schnur
I would like to share this to my facebook page - may I do this? How can I do this. I don't see any links for sharing.
10/30/2015 8:13:46 AM

Daniel P Orcutt
Help me
10/30/2015 7:58:41 AM

Daniel P Orcutt
I need help please I'm a victim too
10/30/2015 7:57:53 AM

Stephanie W
I have found out in managing my illness, the hardest people to get through to are family members. The parents think it's a failing on their part, so help is never sought. So like me and many others we begin the long descent into suffering in silence.
The struggle turns to misery and then unhealthy ways are used to alleviate the symptoms of mental illnessed. In my experience I have also found that it is easier for addictions to be accepted and people are more inclined to help. I guess it's because the problem of addictions can be attributed solely to the individual.
No one chooses to be afflicted with an illness, but since I am I choose to fight for my right to be. I fight for my right to be heard, to be treated with unconditional regard, I choose to fight for equal medical health like someone who may have just found out they have sickle cell anemia. I can't make any one understand what it's like to live with a mental health diagnosis, but if you ask me what it's like for me to live with a mental illness I have no problem telling you.
Undoubtedly the one thing I know will ultimately make a difference in how mental illness is seen and treated, is Love. Love without judgement, love without blame, love without criticism. It sounds simple, but as a society we have to come together collectively and share the burden and we can only do this through LOVE!
10/29/2015 2:21:53 PM

Robert E
I have no problem talking and discussing bipolar disorder, but when it comes to dissociative identity disorder which is steep in stigma, it's so hard to do. Even family members thinks I'm crazy.
10/29/2015 1:18:22 PM

good advice
10/29/2015 9:43:41 AM

c j buechler
I would post it on Facebook.Google.or WordPress
If I could show your origin
10/29/2015 6:56:09 AM

Sounds like a good thing.
10/29/2015 6:42:54 AM

Harold B. Stein
The stigma associated with the term "mental illness" is very pervasive. I feel that to reduce the stigma and to eventually get rid of it, it is necessary to refer to the illness by what it actually is. We are dealing with a physical illness of the brain and a term should be adopted that factually describes the physical illness. People over time have associated all kinds of craziness with the term mental illness and in turn the stigma is perpetuated. A term needs to be created by the medical profession that clearly labels the brain illness as a physical illness. Support organizations and research facilities should get rid of the name "mental illness" and use a term describing their organization more closely aligned to the brain. We should be discussing the effect that the term mental illness has on perpetuating stigma and further discuss and decide on a name that more accurately describes the physical illness that it is. Names and terms have a great effect on how people perceive an illness. Change the name and you chance the perception. There are many examples of this: in the education field we now have "special ed classes" ; persons with certain handicaps are now referred to as "challenged"; the medical field of Chiropody up graded the image by changing the name to Podiatry, etc., etc, all of which was done to eliminate the stigma that existed for years and years. I feel that changing what is referred to as mental illness to a definite physical illness such as: brain disorder, chemical imbalance of the brain, brain attack or any other creative term associated with the brain will change how people react to the illness. This necessitates that all organizations bearing the name mental illness will need to change its name. I suggest NAMI set up a committee to thoroughly examine the issue of stigma as being perpetuated by the name "mental illness" and determine if a more appropriate name is a viable solution.
10/29/2015 12:48:27 AM

Sandra Marie Nicoll
Thank you for this article. I posted the link on my Facebook page and asked that anyone that knows or loves someone with a mental illness (including Dementia and Alzheimer) please read it and pass it on. I am trying to learn how to start a NAMI group in my community. There is very little to no support groups for the community of Mountain Home AR.
10/29/2015 12:10:33 AM

Kathleen Montgomery
This is so important! At 59 yearrs old, I still struggle with shame
and fear of being inside out, even though I am a good and loving person.
There is a saying that I have seen online, a Greek Poverb that states:

Society grows great when old men plant trees whos
shade they know they will never sit in.
10/29/2015 12:10:30 AM

Denise Kastner
I have lost my entire family to their refusal to accept me or even try to understand. Stigma is part of the equation and fear. If I have it then will or do they?
10/28/2015 11:48:37 PM

Janet Garcia
Judging a person with a mental illness and stigmatizing them because they are "different" doesn't mean you can step all over them and treat them like dirt! Just because of all the negative connotations, such as crazy, psycho, schizo, dumb, slow, retarded, stupid, etc. You need to check yourself first before talking about a person with a mental illness because in reality you judging them says more about you, than you the person with a mental illness!
10/28/2015 11:10:19 PM

Mary Elizabeth Slaton
Breaking the bearier, so to speak, takes real strength and preparedness for the worst outcome. We all have to forge ahead; but make no mistake, you could lose your family and friends. It's like being homosexual in the fifties. Coming out paves the way for others; however, be prepared for the worst. I'm 61 and have tried to be very honest for 40 years. I have become a loner over time. Sounds bad, but mostly prefer my own company, alongside my husband.

Example: tell everyone you've just gone through 25 ect. "Where'd my people gone?".
10/28/2015 10:11:12 PM

Patti Crimer
Good list NAMI.it takes a lot to be able to do what is necessary~ and education is key for every one.
10/28/2015 9:16:54 PM

Harold A. Maio
Laura Greenstein: I do not participate in claiming stigmas, nor do I offer validation to those who do. History taught me that: "Stigma" as it was employed in WW II, and "stigma" as it was employed against women who were sexually assaulted.
10/28/2015 8:05:09 PM

Jane Hartenstein
I fight stigma by presenting a one hour power point/speaking presentation on the history of treatment/ beliefs/fallacies about mental illness that is entertaining as well as informative Free Of Charge.
10/28/2015 7:29:46 PM

ABSOLUTELY! Mental illness stigma is the prevailing problem in society today! Or at least ONE of them IMO. Education, awareness, and advocacy are the keys!
10/28/2015 7:26:26 PM

Ellen Roberts
I currently keep my condition (bipolar disorder) a secret from my employer. I have never been officially disabled but I couldn't work for 15 years because of bipolar depression. People with depression have a harder time at work and trying to keep a job. I hope I can keep this job with my chronic depression.
10/27/2015 11:45:48 PM

Linda Criqui
Thank you so much for this list, I am printing it out and plan to post it and carry it in my purse. I tried to formulate a suggestion to fight stigma too, but I was unable to be as articulate as these people were.
10/27/2015 12:48:16 AM

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