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For many people, living with a mental health condition can serve as a source of shame and worry. Oftentimes, it’s because they’ve faced ridicule or discrimination for something that’s beyond their control. Or they’ve heard loved ones say not to talk about it.

The stigma of mental health can cause great pain to someone with a mental health condition or their loved ones. It can keep them isolated and fearful of sharing their story.

More than half of people with mental illness don’t get help for their condition, according to the
American Psychiatric Association (APA). Stigma plays a role in preventing people from seeking the help they need.

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Why Mental Health Stigma Persists

There are many reasons mental health stigmas persist. Mental illness is often portrayed negatively in entertainment and media. Family, generational differences, and cultural norms can also play a role.

There is often outdated thinking and misinformation surrounding mental health issues. The language we use to describe mental health can also contribute to stigma.

Studies on stigma find many people still hold negative views of mental illness, according to the
APA. They hold those views despite knowing mental illness is a medical condition requiring treatment.

The Consequences of Stigma

For people with severe mental illness, a
research review found that internalizing shame, or self-stigma, negatively impacts recovery. Negative effects can include:

  • Lower self-esteem.
  • Decreased hope.
  • Increased psychiatric symptoms.
  • Difficulties with social interactions and relationships.
  • Decreased chances of following treatment.
  • Increased difficulties at work.

Ways You Can Fight Mental Health Stigma

Removing the stigma of mental health starts and ends with all of us.

Check your bias

We can have a bias against mental illness and not realize it. This can be true even if we have a mental health condition ourselves. Take NAMI’s StigmaFree Quiz to find out how stigmas may be affecting how you think about mental health.

Ask for help

If you think you may benefit from speaking to a professional about mental health care, don’t let stigmas prevent you from getting the care you need. Your doctor can address medical management of your mental health issues and provide guidance and resources on dealing with the stigma of mental health.

Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Allegheny County residents can contact the free resolve Crisis Services hotline and speak to a trained clinician any time, day or night, at 1-888-796-8226.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) also offers support through their helpline at (800) 950-NAMI (6264) or If you’re in a crisis, text “NAMI” to 741741.

Share your story

When people can relate to you and hear about your personal experience, mental illness can become less scary for them. According to research on reducing stigma published by the APA, one of the best ways to break the mental health stigma is to share your experience of living with a mental health condition.

How are you, really? from the Mental Health Coalition provides an online forum where you can share your story. Or you can share via their Instagram. This is My Brave is another organization where you can get involved, learn from others, and share your mental health experience.

Help spread awareness

The first week in October is Mental Illness Awareness Week. You can participate in a NAMIWalks United Day of Hope — with both in person and virtual walks to raise awareness. You can also get involved with one of these other organization that are working to fight mental health stigma and discrimination:

Use social media wisely

Social media provides a powerful tool to normalize talking about mental health. It can also help combat misinformation and fear of mental illness. Use it to share your own experience to educate others about mental health.

Don’t let misinformation or prejudice over mental illness go unchecked. If you see stigmatizing language about mental health, say something. Speak up when you see misinformation and stigma.

Watch your language

Avoid using hurtful terms or phrases like ” he’s crazy” or “she’s nuts”. ” – these are terms that can minimize or overly-simplify someone’s mental health journey or dehumanize and makes fun of them. Remind others that the words they use matter.

Take the time to listen and offer support

When someone shares their mental health experience with you, don’t change the subject. Avoid judgmental language or trying to fix them. Remember that it may have been hard for them to open up to you, and they may be feeling vulnerable or anxious. Instead say, “Thank you for sharing that with me,” “I’m sorry you’re going through that. I’m here for you,” or “Do you want to talk about it?”

Pledge to end the stigma

Take NAMI’s
StigmaFree Pledge. By signing up, you’ll receive periodic emails on ways you can get involved.

UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital offers peer support for those receiving mental health care. Incorporating peer support into treatment can improve care by lessening stigmas around mental health. For more information about mental health services at UPMC Western Psychiatric, call 1-877-624-4100 or 412-624-1000.

resolve Crisis Services at UPMC Western Behavioral Health provides 24/7 counseling and support to all Allegheny residents. Call 1-888-7-YOU-CAN (796-8226) or visit our walk-in center at 333 North Braddock Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15208.

Stigma, Prejudice and Discrimination Against People with Mental Illness. American Psychiatric Association. Link.

About UPMC Western Behavioral Health

UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is the hub of UPMC Behavioral Health, a network of community-based programs providing specialized mental health and addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors. Our mission is to provide comprehensive, compassionate care to people of all ages with mental health conditions. UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is a nationally recognized leader in mental health clinical care, research, and education. It is one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities through its integration with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. We are here to help at every stage of your care and recovery.