The Harmful Effects of Stigma and How You Can Help


Written by Nicole Thomas, Social Media Coordinator

Stigma is when someone views another person in a negative way because that person has a distinguishing characteristic or personal trait that’s thought to be, or actually is, a disadvantage (a negative stereotype).  In the article, “Mental health: Overcoming the stigma of mental illness” the Mayo Clinic Staff says, “Unfortunately, negative attitudes and beliefs toward people who have a mental health condition are common.”  Some of the negative effects that someone with a mental health condition or mental illness may experience because of stigma are not wanting to get the help or treatment they need, family, friends, co-workers, and others not understanding them, not getting as many opportunities at work, school, social activities and having trouble finding housing, being bullied or harassed, having low self-esteem and not believing that they can overcome challenges or do things to improve their situation. 

 The Mayo Clinic Staff says that people should deal with stigma by “getting treatment, not letting stigma create self-doubt and shame, not isolating, not equating themselves with their mental illness, joining a support group, getting accommodations at school and speaking out against stigma”.  I have been very fortunate in my life and have not experienced a lot of stigma.  I agree with the Mayo Clinic Staff that doing these things can help people who have a mental illness.  Receiving treatment and talking to my therapist helps me a lot.  I also went to group therapy a few years ago, which was helpful.  Another thing that helped me is receiving accommodation such as getting longer time on tests and being able to take tests in a separate room.  I have also spoken out against stigma by giving a speech my sophomore year about the harmful effects of stigma.  In that speech, I explained why people should not stigmatize individuals who have a mental illness.

There are several things that people can do to decrease stigma surrounding mental health and mental illness.

 One thing they can do is not jump to assumptions about people who live with a mental illness. One in five people have a mental illness. A lot of times people would not even know that someone has a mental illness, unless that person told them about it.  Many people who have a mental illness are high functioning and are not violent.  They can learn how to manage their symptoms, be very successful, and live fulfilling lives.  Also, someone who has a mental illness may experience it differently than another person who has the same mental illness.  That is because there are multiple symptoms of a mental illness and people can have different symptoms.

Another thing that people can do to decrease stigma is by not using mental illness as an insult or as slang.  For example, some people have joked about what the acronym OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) stands for by saying things such as Obsessive Christmas Disorder.  It bothers me when people make fun of mental illness or use it as an insult or slang because people who have a mental illness usually have struggled a lot with their symptoms.  Mental illness needs to be taken seriously. A lot of the time when people use mental illness as an acronym or as slang they are indirectly hurting people who live with a mental illness. 

Finally, people can decrease stigma be by being supportive.  Fortunately, I have wonderful friends and family members who help me.  When I was going through a really rough time with my mental health, they encouraged me to get the treatment I needed.  They do not judge me and let me talk to them about my struggles.  This helps me a lot.

By people not jumping to assumptions about people who have a mental illness, not making fun of mental illnesses and showing support to others who live with mental illness, they can decrease stigma.