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Five steps you can take to help end mental health stigma

By Tedra Anderson-Brown, MD | May 17, 2021 | Community Health, Public Health Challenges

Woman sits on blue velvet couch and smiles at her therapist

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which makes it a great time to address stigma.

I’m the friend and family member of people living with mental health and substance use disorders. As a recovery ally, I whole-heartedly support my loved ones in their efforts to improve their emotional well-being. So it’s important for me to talk openly and honestly about mental health issues, effective coping strategies and available treatment options.

I’ve seen firsthand how stigma can be a barrier to getting support. So I’ve made combatting stigma one of my missions.

Mental health in the United States

Mental health conditions are common. As many as 20-25% of people experience a mental health diagnosis each year. And almost half will be impacted at some point in their lifetime.

Unfortunately, more than half of those with a mental health diagnosis do not seek help. One reason often cited by those who do not seek treatment, or who may delay getting help, is stigma.

Stigma is those negative views, attitudes, and labels toward a person or group of people. And it has serious consequences. People with mental health challenges are often marginalized. Stigma can lead to further guilt, shame, isolation and worse. It can also prevent them from leading full and healthier lives.

So how can we address stigma? It all starts with talking openly about mental health issues.

Here’s how you can help reduce stigma in your own life:

1. Speak up.

It is important that we begin to share our experiences and “real-life” examples. This will help to demystify a topic that for too long has been taboo.

2. Educate.

Share reliable information about these diagnoses to our networks so they have a better understanding of mental health matters. This could include your children, friends, family and coworkers.

3. Be there for your loved ones.

Many people with mental health conditions don’t feel comfortable talking to loved ones about it. Listening and showing compassion for people impacted can be helpful.

4. Be mindful of stigmatizing language.

Our words matter. We should stop using language that is stigmatizing. Calling someone names like crazy or looney can have damaging and lasting impacts. We should refrain from using any labels that equate illness with a person, such as calling someone schizophrenic or bipolar. Instead we should say “a person who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder” or “who has a diagnosis of schizophrenia.”

Here are more examples of language you can use.

5. Challenge the stigma you see.

Lastly, we should directly challenge unfair, unhelpful, and unhealthy descriptions and/or depictions of mental health, no matter where they occur.

All of these actions can help normalize conversations around mental health challenges. They can also highlight treatment, which will hopefully lead more people to feel comfortable seeking care.

At Blue Cross and Blue Shield of NC, our mission is to improve the health and well-being of all our customers and their communities. One way we can do this together is by helping to combat stigma and ensuring access to the help and quality care that we and our loved ones will benefit from.