Why Do We Need to Talk About Stigma?

What people think about mental illnesses and addictions really does matter. When society believes that a person with a mental illness is untrustworthy, dangerous or simply “less than” themselves, it has real impact.

Stigma can keep those of us with a mental illness or addiction from talking to a loved one, for fear of losing that love. It can keep someone from telling their employer when they need adjustments to workload, for fear of losing their job. It can keep someone from seeking medical help for fear of judgment. Yet not seeking treatment can have devastating results, including loss of income, increased illness severity, hopelessness and suicide.

Stigma is real, and it has real consequences.

Many of us might not even know we are contributing to stigma. While talking about mental illness and addiction is becoming more acceptable, it certainly still lags behind the acceptability of talking about other health problems.

  • Take the time to listen to a person who has experienced a mental illness or addiction. Listening to a person’s experience of living with a mental illness is one of the most effective ways of increasing our understanding and decreasing stigma.
  • Avoid using words that add to the stigma such as calling someone “nuts” or “crazy”.
  • Spot discrimination? Don’t be afraid to call it what it is. A call to action to change discriminatory practices or policies can reduce stigma and inspire hope.
  • Ask questions and get information from trusted sources—this website is a start!
  • Find the experts: people in recovery, counselors, physicians or resources such as self help, peer support and other community resources that focus on helping those with mental health problems, mental illness or an addiction. Make use of them.