Ending stigma

Understanding Stigma and Mental Illness

Nearly one in five people (or 20% of the population) in the United States lives with a mental illness. Odds are, you know at least one person in your network or immediate family who struggles with a mental health disorder. And yet, despite the prevalence of mental health disorders, many of the people who live with them still face stigma around mental illness on a regular basis—a stigma that can have serious effects on their lives.

Here, we'll briefly review what stigma and discrimination look like for people with mental health disorders, as well as how to reduce the stigma of mental illness.

What Does Mental Illness Stigma Look Like?

Stigma against mental illness can take a variety of different forms, from the perpetuation of stereotypes that people with mental illness are unpredictable or dangerous, to outright discrimination against people with mental illness by employers, landlords, healthcare providers, and more. Another common example of mental illness stigma is the idea or message that people with depression should "just snap out of it" or "choose to be happy."

Why Is Mental Illness Stigmatized?

The history of how mental illness has been perceived and treated through the centuries is long and complicated. However, one constant is the tendency to vilify or fear things that aren't well understood. Many also tend to see people who are different as inferior. Both of these attitudes have played a part in the stigmatization of mental illness.

Today, the stigma remains rooted in ignorance and poor understanding of mental illness. It is often sustained by inaccurate or sensationalized media portrayals of mentally ill individuals or characters. These representations reinforce harmful stereotypes, which in turn drive stigma.

How To Break the Stigma of Mental Illness

Each of us has a role to play in the process of dismantling the stigma against mental illness. Here's how you can help:

Be Open. One of the most dangerous effects of stigma is the tendency to make people who have mental illness feel isolated or keep their problems a secret, which can reduce their likelihood of seeking treatment and ultimately worsen their condition. By being honest about your own struggles with mental illness (if you have any) and showing compassion and support for others who do the same, you help normalize mental illness.

Watch Your Language. Our everyday conversations are filled with language that misrepresents, trivializes, or problematizes mental illness. For example, when was the last time you heard someone say, "That's insane/crazy" to characterize something negatively, or "I'm so OCD" to refer to personality quirks or a subclinical preference for cleanliness? Words matter, and it's important that we refrain from talking about mental illness in ways that are inaccurate or pejorative.

Educate Yourself. Understanding how mental illness works is one of the best antidotes to ignorance. Take the time to learn about mental illness from credible sources, and to listen to or read the lived experiences of people who have a mental illness. When you encounter stigma and negative stereotypes, you'll have the tools to combat them.

Envision Unlimited has a diverse staff of capable, compassionate mental health professionals. And we have a long history of helping people with disabilities live fulfilling lives in their communities. It has been our mission since 1948. Our offerings, which include day programs for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities; mental health, residential, and employment services; specialized foster care; and accredited applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy for children, are designed to address the unique needs of each of our clients—regardless of age, background, or ability.

Our services are grounded in a spirit of advocacy and empowerment. We believe that all individuals are capable of living successful lives if given the right opportunities. Contact us today to see how we can help you!