November 20, 2015

By Luna Greenstein

Stigma is a burden that lingers and permeates our society. The misconceptions perpetuated by stigma act as a barrier for people who live with mental health conditions to feel open about their struggles and experiences.

Being open and teaching people about these kinds of struggles is something that is necessary in order to remove the misconceptions about mental health.

It can be incredibly challenging and intimidating to share your experiences, but once you start the conversation, is a great way to stand up to stigma.

I reached out to NAMI’s Facebook community and asked people to share a time in their life when they stood up to stigma. Here are some of the responses that we received:

  1. Be Open about Your Experiences

“I wanted to write about my experience and show people that they don't have to go through it alone, but I was scared for a long time of admitting to my mental illness. Coming out as bisexual was easier for me than coming out as bipolar.” –Terryn Rutford

You shouldn’t have to stay ‘in the closet” about your mental health. Nearly 1 in 5 people in the U.S.—60 million Americans—also struggle with their mental health every year, so chances are that if you open up, you’ll find someone to connect with. And if that person doesn’t accept you? There are many others out there who will.

Being open about your mental health is a reminder to yourself and to others that living with a mental health condition isn’t your fault. If you aren’t sure how to talk to others about your mental health condition, here is some information on disclosing to others.

  1. Don’t Let Stigma Slide

“Several months ago, when I went for a routine teeth cleaning, the dental assistant told me that I “didn't look depressed.” After that conversation, I chose to visit another clinic. Her comment was unacceptable, inconsiderate and unsympathetic.” – Dawn Olsen

You don’t have to tolerate prejudice or mistreatment of any kind. Sometimes you can look at someone and see that they are struggling, but you can’t always tell just by looking at someone. Mental health doesn’t look the same and assuming someone is fine because of how they look isn’t fair either. Let them know that mental illness is the same as physical illness, and should be treated with the same amount of care and encouragement.

  1. Reach Out to Others

“I believe in recovery for everyone and ran a crisis center that believed in hope and empowerment. We welcomed those in crisis like they were guests in our home.” – Patricia Tolmie Friend

By helping others who live with mental health conditions, you are showing the world that the mental health community is caring and encouraging and should be treated with respect.

  1. Pay Attention to How You Say Things

“I advised that language matters and if you as students have learned nothing else in speech class, take that one lesson with you because when you speak on topics that carry a lot of stigma especially, the words you use matter.” – Paulissa Edana Kipp

“Our son was newly discharged from a hospital with a diagnosis of Bipolar. The Special Ed Coordinator asked (when I asked for special services) did I really want my child "labeled" with Emotionally Disturbed. I said, "our child has a diagnosis and I want the services that can best meet his needs. A diagnosis is not a label.” – Jackie Dickey

People often use offensive language around mental health, sometimes without even realizing it. Encouraging them to use non-stigmatizing language is one of the easiest ways to stand up to stigma. For example, using person first language such as, a person living with bipolar disorder instead of a bipolar person. Also, not using mental health conditions as adjectives, such as “the weather is being so bipolar.”

  1. Teach Others about Mental Health

“I stand up to remove stigma every day as I live with an SMI diagnosis. I work as a counselor with the SMI population and with families and the community promoting education and awareness.” – Rasheedah Shaheed

Stigma is rooted in a lack of knowledge. Promoting education and awareness is a critical aspect of eliminating stigma. Direct people towards credible resources, such as or, so that they can learn more about mental health.

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