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What is mental health stigma?

two people sit and talk while one puts their arm around the other in concern

Mental health stigma refers to negative, judgmental, and/or discriminatory stereotypes and attitudes toward mental health challenges and people living with mental health conditions. Stigma can show up in a number of ways.

Social stigma is the societal attitude and belief that mental health challenges are a sign of weakness or personal failure. This sometimes leads to people with mental health conditions being ostracized or excluded from social activities.

Self-stigma happens when someone develops negative perceptions (often similar to those involved in social stigma) about themselves because of their mental health challenges. This can lead to feelings of shame, low self-esteem, and reluctance to seek help.

Structural stigma involves institutional policies, practices, and systems that perpetuate discrimination against people with mental health conditions. Some examples of structural stigma are barriers to accessing health care and employment discrimination.

How does stigma impact well-being?

  • Fear of judgment and discrimination can cause people to keep their mental health struggles a secret, leading to delays in seeking help and symptoms that get worse over time.
  • Negative stereotypes about therapy and medication can keep people from exploring treatment options that could really help them.
  • When loved ones misunderstand what it's like to have a mental health condition, they can't provide meaningful support. Not having support from family, friends, and communities can make someone feel even more isolated than their mental health struggles already cause them to feel.
  • People with mental health conditions may not have the same opportunities as others when organizations and systems have stigmatizing policies or perspectives. 

How do you reduce stigma?

It takes time to make meaningful changes in public perception about health conditions, but everyone can take steps to reduce stigma.

Promote accurate information about mental health conditions through educational campaigns, workshops, and events in your community to dispel myths and misconceptions.

Encourage open conversations about mental health in families, schools, workplaces, and communities to foster understanding and empathy. Get your free Mental Health Awareness Bracelet at the MHA Store.

The words that you use when speaking or writing about mental health conditions can feed stereotypes and negative attitudes if you aren’t careful. Respectful, person-centered language is a powerful tool in reducing stigma.

Share personal experiences of living with mental health conditions to showcase resiliency and help show others that recovery is possible.

Advocate for policy changes that protect the rights of people with mental health conditions and promote access to quality mental health care. Visit MHA’s advocacy resources.

Create supportive environments in workplaces, schools, and communities where people feel comfortable seeking help without fear of judgment or discrimination.

Creating support groups and networks where people can connect with others who have shared experiences with mental health conditions facilitates meaningful conversation and provides mutual support and encouragement. Learn more about peer support.

Use your words and your actions to promote inclusivity and acceptance of people with mental health conditions. Everyone is a valued member of society and deserves dignity and respect.

Together we can create a more supportive, understanding, and stigma-free environment for people living with mental health conditions.