Top 10 Ways to Reduce Mental Health Stigma

July 22, 2014 Becky Oberg

Stigma is one of the most challenging aspects of mental illness. A report by the President’s New Freedom Commission states:

Stigma refers to a cluster of negative attitudes and beliefs that motivate the general public to fear, reject, avoid, and discriminate against people with mental illnesses. Stigma is widespread in the United States and other Western nations . . . It leads to low self-esteem, isolation, and hopelessness. It deters the public from seeking and wanting to pay for care. Responding to stigma, people with mental health problems internalize public attitudes and become so embarrassed or ashamed that they often conceal symptoms and fail to seek treatment.

Ironically, the stigma may convince a person that treatment would not be effective. According to a National Mental Health Association (NMHA) survey, only 27 percent of the general public believes that successful treatment exists for schizophrenia, compared to 47 percent of caregivers and 58 percent of people with schizophrenia. Fifty percent of the general population thinks people with depression can hold jobs and 49 percent of the general population thinks people with depression can raise families, but only 14 percent of the general public feels that a person with schizophrenia can do either. Sadly, I don't have the statistics for borderline personality disorder (BPD).

Reduce Mental Health Stigma in These 10 Ways

Mental health stigma is a real problem but reducing mental health stigma is not impossible. Learn the top 10 ways to reduce mental health stigma.So how do we fight stigma? Here are ten ways from Dr. Otto Wahl of George Mason University:

  1. Learn more about mental illness. Knowledge is power. When I was first diagnosed with BPD, I knew next to nothing about it. Now I know that my emotions are not always stable, that I have a propensity to abuse alcohol, that my relationships are often conflicted, and that I self-injure. I also learned that there is treatment, such as schema therapy. The more you know, the better off you'll be.
  2. Talk to individuals who have experienced mental illness, especially those with your diagnosis. HealthyPlace blogs are a good place to start--we all are open about our situations. Many people with mental illness can share stories of what is stigmatizing, how stigma affects them, and how they would like to be treated.
  3. Avoid using stigmatizing language, such as “nutcase”, “lunatic”, “maniac”, “psycho”, etc. Also, avoid using depersonalizing language. Refer to a person as “a person with” instead of just by their diagnoses--people are more than their diagnoses, hence the name of this blog. For example, “person with borderline personality disorder" instead of “borderline.”
  4. Monitor the media. The National Alliance of Mental Illness StigmaBusters, the NMHA, and the National Stigma Clearinghouse protest such material by contacting the people responsible for the material. Consider joining one of these organizations.
  5. Respond to stigmatizing material in the media. Remember, you vote with what you watch and with your wallet.
  6. Speak out about stigma. Educate others. Silence is often complicity. Most people have stigma because they're ignorant, not malicious. When called on it, people often change their opinions.
  7. Talk candidly about mental illness. How can we fight stigma if we don’t address the issue? As a line in the play Nobody Needs to Know by Carol Bozena says, "If you're ashamed of who you are and what you've been through, how can you expect anyone else to act any differently?"
  8. Demand change from elected officials. A good place to start is by demanding mental health courts. Many times people need treatment but get jail--mental health court is one way to fight this.
  9. Support stigma-fighting organizations. Even if you can’t contribute financially, encouraging mail could help.
  10. Contribute to research. If mental illness can be understood and treated, stigma will be reduced.

What are you doing to reduce stigma?

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APA Reference
Oberg, B. (2014, July 22). Top 10 Ways to Reduce Mental Health Stigma, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 19 from

Author: Becky Oberg

July, 28 2014 at 4:44 pm

A great big thank you! Also Belonging to NAMI is a good idea, it helps families understand and keeps you all together! Some can get well again and there is help for all who need it! One step at a time! Thanks, Jacqueline

Nathan Hamilton
July, 28 2014 at 6:02 am

I know people shy away from the "conversation" of mental illnesses. So often it is too late to save a person that has been manic or depressed to the point of suicide. If we can pick up on certain behaviors from these "Friends, Loved Ones, Family" then we can save lives. I think a lot of people have some treatable form of mental illness, be it small or big, it is there.
Nathan Hamilton diagnosed 2001 at age 30 bi-polar type I with psychotic features, I take 500 mg Serequell, and 6 mg of Invega (top treatment for schizophrenia. I deal with issues every day but often symptoms are reduced thanks to therapy and meds.

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