9 Ways to Fight Mental Health Stigma

By Laura Greenstein | Oct. 11, 2017

 

Most people who live with mental illness have, at some point, been blamed for their condition. They’ve been called names. Their symptoms have been referred to as “a phase” or something they can control “if they only tried.” They have been illegally discriminated against, with no justice. This is the unwieldy power that stigma holds.

Stigma causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control. Worst of all, stigma prevents people from seeking the help they need. For a group of people who already carry such a heavy burden, stigma is an unacceptable addition to their pain. And while stigma has reduced in recent years, the pace of progress has not been quick enough.

All of us in the mental health community need to raise our voices against stigma. Every day, in every possible way, we need to stand up to stigma. If you’re not sure how, here are nine ways our Facebook community responded to the question: “How do you fight stigma?

Talk Openly About Mental Health

“I fight stigma by talking about what it is like to have bipolar disorder and PTSD on Facebook. Even if this helps just one person, it is worth it for me.” – Angela Christie Roach Taylor

Educate Yourself and Others

“I take every opportunity to educate people and share my personal story and struggles with mental illness. It doesn't matter where I am, if I over-hear a conversation or a rude remark being made about mental illness, or anything regarding a similar subject, I always try to use that as a learning opportunity and gently intervene and kindly express how this makes me feel, and how we need to stop this because it only adds to the stigma.” – Sara Bean

Be Conscious of Language

“I fight stigma by reminding people that their language matters. It is so easy to refrain from using mental health conditions as adjectives and in my experience, most people are willing to replace their usage of it with something else if I explain why their language is problematic.” – Helmi Henkin

Encourage Equality Between Physical and Mental Illness

“I find that when people understand the true facts of what a mental illness is, being a disease, they think twice about making comments. I also remind them that they wouldn't make fun of someone with diabetes, heart disease or cancer.” – Megan Dotson

Show Compassion for Those with Mental Illness

“I offer free hugs to people living outdoors, and sit right there and talk with them about their lives. I do this in public, and model compassion for others. Since so many of our homeless population are also struggling with mental illness, the simple act of showing affection can make their day but also remind passersby of something so easily forgotten: the humanity of those who are suffering.” – Rachel Wagner

Choose Empowerment Over Shame

“I fight stigma by choosing to live an empowered life. To me, that means owning my life and my story and refusing to allow others to dictate how I view myself or how I feel about myself.” – Val Fletcher

Be Honest About Treatment

“I fight stigma by saying that I see a therapist and a psychiatrist. Why can people say they have an appointment with their primary care doctor without fear of being judged, but this lack of fear does not apply when it comes to mental health professionals?” – Ysabel Garcia

Let the Media Know When They’re Being Stigmatizing

“If I watch a program on TV that has any negative comments, story lines or characters with a mental illness, I write to the broadcasting company and to the program itself. If Facebook has any stories where people make ignorant comments about mental health, then I write back and fill them in on my son’s journey with schizoaffective disorder.” – Kathy Smith

Don’t Harbor Self-Stigma

“I fight stigma by not having stigma for myself—not hiding from this world in shame, but being a productive member of society. I volunteer at church, have friends, and I’m a peer mentor and a mom. I take my treatment seriously. I'm purpose driven and want to show others they can live a meaningful life even while battling [mental illness].” – Jamie Brown

This is what our collective voice sounds like. It sounds like bravery, strength and persistence—the qualities we need to face mental illness and to fight stigma. No matter how you contribute to the mental health movement, you can make a difference simply by knowing that mental illness is not anyone’s fault, no matter what societal stigma says. You can make a difference by being and living StigmaFree.

 

Laura Greenstein is communications coordinator at NAMI.

 

Note: An earlier version of this blog appeared on NAMI.org in October 2015.

Comments
Karla Williams
I wish we could educate people to understand that every person who commits a horrific act of violence such as Las Vegas and now the church shooting in Texas is not necessarily someone with mental illness. They need to know the real facts, that most people suffering from serious brain disorders are not violent.Also when people who don't want any gun restrictions of any kind, blame the problem of mass shootings on mental illness. Talk about stigma!
11/9/2017 7:45:57 PM

Kelli
I don't hide from stigma, I face it head on. I tell people that I have a brain disorder ( which mental illness is) and that makes them curious so I can educate. I went undiagnosed for 31 years and boy did I screw it up. After being diagnosed, life changed and I actually had one. I had to get off the alcohol and stay on my meds. It was a glorious change. I am learning to own who I am but it just takes me a little longer than most. I use every opportunity to educate people and let them know that mental illness is just that, an illness. I believe it should be called a brain disorder because that is what it is. Chemicals are not produced to makes us "normal" to society and we act different. No different than a diabetic not on medication. They have been known to act differently. We need to tell society not to judge us because we have a brain disorder. We can't change the fact we have it but we can do something about it. Just like any other disease we are no different.
10/29/2017 11:49:53 AM

mitch kato
Stigma free? How can we do that when we don't even know what mental illness is. It may manifest in so many different ways. The effort to being stigma free may end up as Political Correctness. It will stiffen the conversation. We must become ruthlessly honest and keep our talk in a very concrete level. That will be the only way.
10/28/2017 4:35:41 PM

Steve lehrman
I am bipolar 2 and I don’t let stigmas stop me .i will always get great support from my wife and family and co workers
10/26/2017 9:05:06 PM

mitch kato
Mental illness appears as a complicated therefore many different objective forms (so likely there is no single category called "mental illness"). And this strikes the person in a very subjective form. Therefore defending against the stigma in social situation will require detailed life examination . And more, because the nature of this subjective illness, the person himself does not know.
10/25/2017 10:35:27 PM

Claire
The "stigma", for one, comes from somewhere, such as where stereotypes come from. Someone started it. Albiet one with manic-depression(present) or one doctor/therapist who decided the DSM-V or 3-4 at the time, was correct in all standards.
I deal with the stigma because not only do have the one mental health issue(its not a disease, don't get me started) but on top of that I've self medicated and did bad things in order to feed a psychological addiction that was keeping me from feeling what was really going on. I didn't want to deal with it. I didn't want to manage it. So I'm pretty much a lost cause to most people. But they do not dictate my life. I own it. I own my actions, my flaws, my gifts(that turn out to be curses too), my lack of fitting in to this generation being ahead of the times or behind, it doesn't matter. Own yourself. We are not in a refuge camp starving and salivating at the site of a leather boot, we are living in a culture that would rather hide who they are than be who they have always been. You are no mentally ill. You are you. And they are them. Don't let this stigma rule your day to day. I can't just shake depression or mania, but I can manage it and I some how have been able to. Because the true self within is reaching out and she's winning. I have that. I hope someone gets something from this and it's not "insensitivity". In actual life you wouldn't think it. But this is the internet.
10/25/2017 10:04:31 PM

Adriane Wright
This list is so encouraging to me 23 year old grandson was just told he has a brain illness. I attended my first family and friends support group it was great ! My daughter and I learned a lot.
10/24/2017 10:41:57 PM

Tyler
I had no idea of the shame that people had put upon themselves for their mental disorders/illnesses. I grew up in a community that was very accepting and understanding of my Aspberger's syndrome, so I never knew about the negative treatment that others may have been experiencing. I'm going to reconsider joining my psychology teacher's stigma-free club.

I grew up with Aspberger's syndrome. I felt ashamed for quite awhile. There were many supportive people in my community that taught me to think differently. I've learned to accept the fact that I simply interact with the world differently from many others, like many of the other people posting comments here.
10/16/2017 9:48:34 PM

MARTA M. GARCIA
Thank you dearly for articles on this topic. The more we reach out and educate, the many more will be helped.
10/13/2017 12:18:02 AM

Gwen Ginocchio
We are looking for my grand niece Kaeigh Green who disappeared from her home in Chgo Oct. 2, 2017. Please google her name and missing child for a picture Any info please call 911. She suffers from depression and is without her meds. Thank you!!
10/11/2017 8:28:25 PM

Misty
I want to be part of something like this . Im tired of being treated like crap because I have a chemical I'm balance in my brain . I've had it every since I was a little girl. I do everything possible to maintain my mental health. I can't skip meds or I have a really hard time. They get taken at a certain time everyday of my life. When I'm not on them I have to stay in the hospital for a week or two until I'm leveled out again.
10/9/2017 8:37:54 PM

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

Jeremy
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

Karen
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 ...
regards
Satvinder Deep Singh.
Note : Every name have Meaning to It ( Search your self )
2/27/2016 11:29:03 PM

Gail
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

Gail
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

Gail
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

Name
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

Michael
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

Mike
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

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

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

lee
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

marc
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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