November 16, 2016

By Luna Greenstein

Stigma is defined as a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something. It’s a concept entirely based on societal perception—and a difficult thing to change. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Those who live with mental illness are stigmatized. They are labeled and seen as their condition—and nothing more. Stigma surrounding mental illness is not only a problem, it’s a deprioritized problem. There’s barely been any new studies or research published on the topic in the past 15 years, and all the older research points to the same conclusions: that people living with mental health conditions are:

  • Given the same social distance as criminals.
  • Perceived as individuals that should be feared.
  • Seen as irresponsible, childlike and unable to make their own decisions.
  • Less likely to be hired.
  • Less likely to get safe housing.
  • More likely to be criminalized than offered health care services.
  • Afraid of rejection to the point that they don’t always pursue opportunities.

And yet, very little is done to improve this issue. Not to mention the complete lack of current research gives people today the excuse of: Those conclusions probably aren’t true anymore, I’m sure circumstances have improved over the past 15 years. But if you ask any person who lives with mental illness, they will probably tell you circumstances haven’t.

What Can You Do?

We need to band together to push stigma to the forefront of societal concern. Only when this issue receives the spotlight it deserves will we start to see change. Here are two things you can do right now to help NAMI raise awareness:

  1. Pledge to be stigmafree. This pledge is a promise to yourself and your community that you will:
    1. Learn more about mental health.
    2. See the person, not the condition.
    3. Act to change people’s perceptions of mental illness.
  2. Share with your community how you stop stigma using the hashtag #IStopStigmaBy. Here are a few examples shared through our Facebook community:

#IStopStigmaBy‪ drawing out others’ stories. Every family has struggles around mental illness. Finding this common ground and talking about it helps everyone.

#IStopStigma‪By by teaching middle and high schoolers about mental illness.

#IStopStigmaBy educating myself and listening to others without making assumptions.

#IStopStigmaBy being an advocate and changing the way people talk about mental illness.

People with mental health conditions already have the challenge of living with the symptoms of their condition, to add on the challenges of being treated poorly and seen as “less-than” is sometimes too much to handle.

Please support NAMI in our fight to raise awareness and create change.


“Your illness doesn’t define you, your strength and courage does.” – Unknown


Tell us how you stop stigma using #IStopStigmaBy. Write your response on a piece of paper or notebook. Share on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag to share with the NAMI community. Learn more by clicking here!

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NAMI HelpLine is available M-F, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET. Call 800-950-6264,
text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).