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What Is Mental Health Stigma?

I am a social worker with my BSW and an outreach caseworker in the mental health field. This has been a topic of passion for me for awhile!


Mental Health Is...

According to the CDC, "Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices".

Mental health is significant in everyday life because it affects what we do in everyday life, just like physical health. Interestingly enough, even our physical health can affect your mental health and wellness (CDC, 2020).

There are many factors that contribute to mental health. These include:

  1. Biological factors: genes, chemicals in the brain, substance use during pregnancy
  2. Environmental factors: social connections/relationships, occupation/school, living situations, cultures and customs, community, oppression, society as a whole, etc.
  3. History: past experiences and struggles, such as: trauma, abuse, near-death experiences, family history of mental illness, etc.

(U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2020).

Then What Is Mental Illness?

Poor mental health may lead to mental illness.

"Mental disorders (or mental illnesses) are conditions that affect your thinking, feeling, mood, and behavior. They may be occasional or long-lasting (chronic). They can affect your ability to relate to others and function each day" (Medline Plus, 2014).

Mental illness can manifest itself through symptoms such as:

  • Feeling sad or down
  • Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate
  • Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt
  • Extreme mood changes of highs and lows
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping
  • Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations
  • Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
  • Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people
  • Problems with alcohol or drug use
  • Major changes in eating habits
  • Sex drive changes
  • Excessive anger, hostility or violence
  • Suicidal thinking

"Sometimes symptoms of a mental health disorder appear as physical problems, such as stomach pain, back pain, headaches, or other unexplained aches and pains"

(Mayo Clinic, 2019).

How Is Mental Illness Diagnosed?

Educated experts such as psychologists, psychiatrists, and medical doctors are the only people who can diagnose mental health condition(s).

This is done is by completing a medical history, potentially doing lab tests and a physical health exam to rule out other conditions, and by performing psychiatric assessments.


Some Statistics

Given by Mental Health America:

  • "Nearly 1 in 5 American adults will have a diagnosable mental health condition in any given year."
  • "46% of Americans will meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health condition some time in their life, and half of those people will develop those conditions by the age of 14."
  • "Number of US adults with mental illness: 44 million.
  • "Number of US adults with anxiety disorders: 42.5 million.
  • "Number of US adults with a Substance Use Disorder in the past year: 19 million."
  • "Number of US adults with Bipolar Disorder: 3.3 million."
  • "Number of US adults with Depression: 17.3 million."
  • "Number of youth (aged 12-17) with Major Depression: 3.1 million."
  • "Number of US adults with PTSD: 12 million."
  • "Number of US adults with Schizophrenia: ~1.5 million."
  • "Number of US adults with suicidal thoughts: 9.8 million."
  • " Percent of adults with mental illness who did not received any mental health treatment: 56%"
  • "Percent of adults with mental Illness who report they try and can't get treatment: 20.6%"
  • "Ratio of individuals in a state to available mental health providers: 504 to 1"
  • "Number of US adults with mental illness who are uninsured: 5.3 million."
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Given by National Alliance on Mental Illness:

  • "1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year"
  • "50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24"
  • "Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-34"
  • "60% of U.S. counties do not have a single practicing psychiatrist"
  • "Annual prevalence of mental illness among U.S. adults, by demographic group:
  1. "Non-Hispanic Asian: 14.7%
  2. Non-Hispanic white: 20.4%
  3. Non-Hispanic black or African-American: 16.2%
  4. Non-Hispanic mixed/multiracial: 26.8%
  5. Hispanic or Latino: 16.9%
  6. Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual: 37.4%"
  • "The average delay between the onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment is 11 years"
  • "Mood disorders are the most common cause of hospitalization for all people in the U.S. under age 45 (after excluding hospitalization relating to pregnancy and birth)"
  • "Across the U.S. economy, serious mental illness causes $193.2 billion in lost earnings each year
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S."
  • "The overall suicide rate in the U.S. has increased by 31% since 2001
  • "Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are 4x more likely to attempt suicide than straight youth"
  • "75% of people who die by suicide are male"
  • "Transgender adults are nearly 12x more likely to attempt suicide than the general population"

Strike Out Mental Health Stigma!

Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.

— President William Jefferson Clinton

Strike Out Mental Health Stigma!

Mental health stigma has been around for centuries. Stigma on mental health involves prejudicial thoughts and discriminatory actions towards those with mental illnesses because of their mental health conditions.

Mental health stigma can seriously affect those with mental health conditions and even perpetuate their symptoms of their mental illness(es). Not only that, but it is super embarrassing and isolating to be known as the person who is a "psycho" or "crazy". It is awful to be thought of negatively and treated unfairly because of something you can't help. Oftentimes, a simple lack of understanding/misconceptions are the reasons for someone having a stigmatized view of a person with mental health condition(s). This is such a shame. Always do your best to educate yourself for the betterment of both yourself and society as a whole.

The 7 Types of Stigma:

  1. Public Stigma: "This happens when the public endorses negative stereotypes and prejudices, resulting in discrimination against people with mental health conditions." (NAMI, 2018)
  2. Self Stigma: This happens when someone who is diagnosed with mental health conditions internalizes negative conceptions about themselves because of their mental illness(es).
  3. Perceived Stigma: The belief that others have negative feelings or prejudices about them because of their mental illness.
  4. Label Avoidance: "This is when a person chooses not to seek mental health treatment to avoid being assigned a stigmatizing label. Label avoidance is one of the most harmful forms of stigma." (NAMI, 2018)
  5. Stigma by Association: "Stigma by association occurs when the effects of stigma are extended to someone linked to a person with mental health difficulties.This type of stigma is also known as courtesy stigma and associative stigma." (NAMI, 2018)
  6. Structural Stigma: "Institutional policies or other societal structures that result in decreased opportunities for people with mental illness..." (NAMI, 2018), as well as oppression.
  7. Health Practitioner Stigma: When educated experts have negative biases, beliefs, and prejudices towards patients with mental health conditions that negatively affect the care of these clients.

(NAMI, 2018)

How to Improve the Issue of Stigma?

Educate yourself, friends, family, and communities! Spread the word to produce awareness!


Social Worker & Professor Carol Owen on Mental Health Stigma

How to Maintain Mental Wellness: Self-Care

Some Ideas/Examples:

  • Enjoy nature: take a hike, go to the beach, bird watch
  • Exercise: play sports, take a walk, go for a run, go to the gym, do some morning yoga, play "Just Dance"! Exercise releases endorphins that produce feelings of happiness!
  • Relationships: friendships, family, love, romance, flirting, sex (these all DO count as self-care!) Dopamine and oxytocin are wonderful mood boosters!
  • Hobbies: knitting, video games, reading/writing, playing guitar, painting, photography, bingo!
  • Naps!
  • Meditation
  • Laughter! People say laughter is the best medicine. Turn on Netflix and watch some John Mulaney, he's amazing!
  • Treat yourself! Get that doughnut you've been craving, buy yourself that expensive pair of shoes, pour yourself a relaxing glass of wine. You deserve it!

And remember you CAN take mental health days! Mental health is just as important as physical health and just as much as a reason to stay home and rest!

*within reason of course, haha!

Some great self care tips ❤️

Some great self care tips ❤️

Take Away

There is a lot to learn about mental health and it's important to take the time to better educate yourself as well as spread this knowledge to those around you.

Mental health is a vital topic of discussion and should be a consistent open conversation. People suffer from disorders that influence many, if not all, aspects of their lives and we all should respect one another despite this fact.

If you take away anything from this article, know that it is OKAY to be diagnosed with mental health conditions. You are not crazy, there's nothing wrong with you. Just be you, take care of yourself, and remember... you CAN get help.

National Mental Health Resources:

"Call 911 if you or someone you know is in immediate danger or go to the nearest emergency room.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255); En Español 1-888-628-9454
The Lifeline is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Lifeline connects callers to the nearest crisis center in the Lifeline national network. These centers provide crisis counseling and mental health referrals. People who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have hearing loss can contact the Lifeline via TTY at 1-800-799-4889.

Crisis Text Line
Text “HELLO” to 741741
The Crisis Text hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the U.S. The Crisis Text Line serves anyone, in any type of crisis, connecting them with a crisis counselor who can provide support and information.

Veterans Crisis Line
Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and press 1 or text to 838255
The Veterans Crisis Line is a free, confidential resource that connects veterans 24 hours a day, seven days a week with a trained responder. The service is available to all veterans, even if they are not registered with the VA or enrolled in VA healthcare. People who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have hearing loss can call 1-800-799-4889.

Disaster Distress Helpline
Call 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746
The disaster distress helpline provides immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. The helpline is free, multilingual, confidential, and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

(National Institutes of Health, 2020)

The Trevor Project (866-488-7386)

"Our trained counselors are here to support you 24/7. If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgment-free place to talk, call the TrevorLifeline now at 1-866-488-7386." (The Trevor Project, 2020)

National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-7233)

Thank you for reading this article. If you feel this message is important, please share or comment. Be well.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Jennifer Taylor

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