Understanding The Mental Health Stigma

February 6, 2024

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A significant portion of those suffering from mental health disorders do not manage to engage with the help they need. Many people refrain from or postpone seeking treatment due to apprehensions or the potential risk of complications. This hesitation is often due to the continued existence of stigma, bias, and discrimination against those with mental health conditions.

Stigma around mental health can manifest subtly or overtly, but regardless of its presentation, it can have detrimental consequences. Those with mental health conditions can face marginalization and discriminatory treatment in various forms. Recognizing these manifestations and understanding how to confront and eliminate them, though, can set the foundation for positive change. Read on to learn more about stigma and mental health and discover how to connect with evidence-based care near you.


What Is Stigma in Mental Health?

What is the stigma around mental health around mental health, then? Stigma of mental health problems refers to the negative attitudes, beliefs, and stereotypes associated with individuals who have mental health conditions. It includes societal misconceptions and prejudices that can lead to discrimination and marginalization of those experiencing mental illnesses.

Stigma behind mental health can crop up in different ways. Social stigma involves the general public holding negative perceptions about those battling mental health issues. This can result in isolation, exclusion, and reluctance to interact with individuals who are affected.

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Self-stigma occurs when individuals with mental health conditions internalize the negative stereotypes and beliefs surrounding their conditions. This type of self-directed mental illness stigma can trigger feelings of low self-esteem and shame, making it even more challenging to seek help and engage in treatment.

Structural stigma describes discriminatory practices and policies within institutions, organizations, or even healthcare systems that limit access to services, opportunities, or support for people with mental illnesses. These endemic mental health stigmas are perhaps the toughest to dispel.

Media portrayal of mental health can perpetuate stereotypes and sensationalize issues too, further reinforcing harmful perceptions. Misrepresentations in movies, television, news, and social media can contribute to misunderstanding and bias.

Stigma and discrimination can exacerbate symptoms and decrease the likelihood of seeking treatment. A comprehensive recent research review revealed that self-stigma has detrimental impacts on the recovery of individuals diagnosed with severe mental illnesses. These effects may extend to:

  • Diminished hope
  • Lowered self-esteem
  • Heightened psychiatric symptoms
  • Challenges in maintaining healthy social relationships
  • Reduced commitment to ongoing treatment
  • Increased difficulties in the workplace

Addressing stigma in mental health helps individuals feel more comfortable seeking help and accessing appropriate treatment. It requires sustained efforts at societal, institutional, and individual levels to promote understanding, empathy, and acceptance for those dealing with mental health challenges. Reducing stigma can ultimately lead to improved mental health outcomes and a more inclusive society. The journey might be challenging, but we should all do what we can to help.


History of Mental Health Stigma

Throughout history, the stigma surrounding mental health has evolved and persisted, often harmful to individuals facing mental health challenges. In ancient civilizations, mental illnesses were often attributed to supernatural causes, leading to the belief that affected individuals were possessed by demons or under divine punishment. These misconceptions fueled fear and discrimination.

During the Middle Ages, individuals with mental health conditions were often marginalized and segregated from society. They were frequently confined to asylums or subjected to cruel treatments based on superstitious beliefs.

The 19th century saw some progress in the understanding of mental illnesses, but stigma persisted. Mental asylums were established, but conditions in these institutions were terrible, and individuals were still stigmatized as lunatics or mad.

Advances in psychiatry and psychology brought about a more scientific understanding of mental health, yet stigma persisted. Media portrayals in movies and literature often depicted individuals with mental illnesses as dangerous or unpredictable, further fueling fear and misunderstanding.

In the mid-20th century, there was a movement towards deinstitutionalization, aiming to transition individuals with mental illnesses from asylums to community-based care. This transition was not always well-executed, though, and it contributed to homelessness and stigmatization of those with mental health issues.

In recent decades, mental health advocates, professionals, and organizations have worked tirelessly to raise awareness and combat stigma. Initiatives like Mental Health Awareness Month and anti-stigma campaigns have sought to challenge stereotypes and promote understanding.

Laws and regulations have been enacted to protect the rights of individuals with mental health conditions and to ensure that they receive equitable treatment. ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and the MHPAEA (Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act) are examples of such legislation in the United States.

While significant progress has been made in addressing mental health stigma, challenges persist. The historical legacy of discrimination and misunderstanding highlights the need for ongoing efforts to foster empathy, education, and acceptance for individuals dealing with mental health challenges.

Mental Health Stigma Examples

Examples of stigma surrounding mental illness include:

  • Derogatory language: One common example of mental health stigma is the use of derogatory language or hurtful stereotypes when referring to people with mental illnesses. This can include calling them crazy or insane, which not only perpetuates negative stereotypes but also discourages individuals from seeking help due to the fear of being labeled in this way.
  • Workplace discrimination: Another example is job discrimination based on mental health. Some employers may unfairly treat employees with mental health conditions, such as firing them or denying promotions, assuming that they are less capable or reliable than their colleagues. This discrimination can lead to financial insecurity and exacerbate mental health challenges.
  • Media portrayals: The way mental health is portrayed in the media can also contribute to stigma. When movies or TV shows depict individuals with mental illnesses as violent or unpredictable, it reinforces false beliefs and stereotypes. These portrayals can lead to fear and misunderstanding in society, making it more difficult for those with mental health issues to be treated with empathy and compassion.


Mental Health Stigma Statistics

  • Over 50% of individuals with mental illness do not seek professional help due to concerns about being treated differently or the fear of job loss, according to APA (American Psychiatric Association).
  • Approximately half of workers expressed some level of comfort in discussing mental health, and the majority indicated their willingness to assist a distressed colleague in finding mental health resources. Regrettably, only one in four knew how to go about getting help.
  • Public stigma involves negative attitudes toward mental illness held by others. Research indicates that a significant portion of the public still holds negative views about individuals with mental health disorders, despite recognizing the value of treatment.
  • A study involving over 200 individuals with mental illness found that greater self-stigma is associated with poorer recovery outcomes, including reduced hope, lower self-esteem, and increased psychiatric symptoms over a two-year period.


How to Combat Mental Health Stigma

Here are some effective ways to combat mental health stigma.

Education and awareness

Promote mental health education and awareness to increase understanding about mental illnesses. Encourage open conversations about mental health to reduce misconceptions and stereotypes.

Language matters

Be careful of the language you use when talking about mental health. Don’t use derogatory terms or stigmatizing language. Instead, use respectful and person-first language that emphasizes the individual, not their condition.

Share personal stories

Sharing personal experiences with mental health challenges can humanize the issue and show that mental illnesses affect people from all walks of life. Sharing stories of recovery and resilience can inspire hope and reduce stigma.

Supportive environment

Create a safe and supportive environment in workplaces, schools, and communities where individuals feel comfortable discussing their mental health concerns without fear of discrimination or judgment.

Challenge stereotypes

Challenge and correct stereotypes whenever you encounter them. Encourage others to do the same. Engage in conversations that debunk myths and provide accurate information.

Media literacy

Be critical consumers of media portrayals of mental health. Advocate for responsible and accurate representations in movies, TV shows, and news articles. Provide feedback to media outlets when they perpetuate stigmatizing narratives.


Get involved in mental health advocacy efforts and support organizations that work to combat stigma. Lobby for mental health policy changes and increased funding for mental health services.

Supportive language in policies

Encourage organizations and institutions to implement policies that promote mental health, such as anti-stigma policies and workplace accommodations for mental health conditions.

Empathy and compassion

Practice empathy and compassion when interacting with individuals who have mental health challenges. Listen without judgment and offer support when needed.

Professional training

Encourage mental health training for professionals in various fields, including healthcare, education, and law enforcement, to ensure that they provide sensitive and informed care to individuals with mental health conditions.

By taking these steps, individuals and communities can contribute to reducing mental health stigma and creating a more inclusive and accepting society where everyone feels valued and supported.


Get Treatment for Mental Health at Connections

If you have any kind of mental health issue, however big or small, we can help you with compassionate and evidence-based treatment at Connections Mental Health in Southern California.

Our beachside treatment center is designed to be welcoming and inclusive with capacity limited to six people at any one time. This ensures that you receive adequate individualized attention while still benefiting from the powerful support of peers dealing with similar issues.

All mental health conditions are unique, so all treatment programs at Connections are correspondingly personalized. You can access a blend of pharmacological, behavioral, and motivational therapies, as well as counseling and holistic treatments for a whole-body approach to healing.

Cut through the stigma surrounding mental health treatment and put yourself first by calling 844-759-0999 right away.

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