Fighting the Stigma of Mental Illness

  By Norma J. Goodwin, MD, Founder and President of Health Power, 

Although society has become more accepting of persons with mental illness, unfortunately stigma still often occurs. It happens when a person with mental illness is viewed in a negative way because he or she has a personal characteristic or trait that puts them at a disadvantage, or is thought to put them at a disadvantage. In other words, stigma is a negative stereotype.
Stigma can lead to discrimination, such as a negative remark about a person’s mental illness or treatment, or it may be someone avoiding a person with mental illness because the person is thought to be unstable or violent for no reason. The Health Power table below summarizes key effects of such stigma, and provides tips on what one should and should not do to fight stigma associated with mental illness.


An estimated 44 million Americans experience a mental disorder in any given year.

Stigma is about disrespect and using negative labels to identify a person living with mental illness

Stigma is a barrier that discourages individuals and their families from seeking help. 

Stigma can result in inadequate insurance coverage for mental services

Stigma can lead to fear, mistrust, and violence against people living with mental illness, and their families.

Stigma can cause families and friends to turn their backs on people with mental illness.

Stigma can prevent people from getting access to needed mental health services.

Many people would rather tell employers that they committed a petty crime and served time in jail, than admit to having been in a psychiatric hospital.

Stigma often lowers self-esteem, which everybody needs, especially the mentally ill, because of the stigma associated with their illnesses.

Stigma can cause a lack of understanding by family, friends or co-workers.

Stigma may cause fewer opportunities for employment, school or social activities or trouble finding housing.

Stigma may cause you to believe that you’ll never be able to succeed at certain challenges or that you can’t improve your situation.


Do: Always use respectful language.

Do:  Emphasize people’s abilities, not their limitations.

Do: Tell a person if they express a stigmatizing attitude.

Do: Praise a person that you know has a mental illness for seeking help.

Do: Be supportive, knowing that persons with mental illness may often become isolated and/or depressed as a result of the associated stigma.

Do: Encourage a person with mental illness to seek medical care because mental illness can often be effectively treated today with either medications, psychosocial treatments, or a combination of both.



Don’t suggest that successful persons with disabilities are super human, although they often achieve much in spite of many challenges.

Don’t use very general or stereotyping labels like calling a person retarded, or mentally ill, especially since every person’s situation is different.

Don’t use terms like crazy, lunatic, manic depressive, or slow functioning.

Don’t discuss with anyone else the fact that a person has mental illness, unless he or she is already aware of that since you don’t know whether the person you tell will stigmatize the person.

Don’t make jokes about a person who is mentally ill, even if he or she doesn’t overhear you, because negative and joking attitudes about mental illness help to create an atmosphere in which stigmatizing is acceptable.

Don’t forget to reflect on the fact that when you see or interact with person with mental illness that, there but for the blessings you have experienced, could be you. 


Remember the Health Power tagline, or motto: Knowledge + Action = Power!®

Thanks for your comments/feedback

Health Power for Minorities (Health Power)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *