Stigma and Mental Illness

Mental illness is common, about half of us will have a diagnosable mental health condition within our lifetime.

Stigma is a barrier to getting help. Some people feel ashamed that they have a mental health condition and fear they will face discrimination. The desire to hide one’s mental illness is one of the reasons that, on average, it takes a person 11 years from the onset of symptoms to getting the treatment they need. 

What is the truth about mental illness?

Knowing and sharing the facts about mental illness can make a difference. Read about the myths and truths about mental illness. Take what you’ve learned and think about how you could create a space where someone you care about could talk openly about their mental health.

Truth: Mental illness affects nearly every family in America, and about half of us will have a diagnosable mental health condition within our lifetime, which means it is very likely you are in contact with someone living with a mental health condition everyday.

Truth: There are a variety of treatments available to help a person manage their illness. In addition to medication and therapy, people living with mental illness need understanding, support from family and friends, housing and a sense of community. Many get well and stay well by developing a wellness toolbox that may include WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan), breathing and meditation, journaling, and more. Volunteerism, employment and school are also key components that aid in the recovery process.

Truth: Most people with a mental illness are nonviolent. By the numbers, only 3-5% of violent acts can be attributed to someone experiencing serious mental illness. In fact, people living with a mental health condition are ten times more likely to be victims of violence. 

Truth: People living with mental illness do work and perform just as well as their peers. For some, working a full or part time job is an important part of managing their condition. Others turn to volunteering and use their passion for helping people as a way to stay out in the community and stay well.

Truth: There are a number of factors that cause mental illness. Biology, genetics, a history of trauma or Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can all play a role. Normalizing ‘asking for help’ makes it all the more possible a person will get the treatment they need. Many people diagnosed with a mental illness will recover completely. Dealing with a mental illness doesn’t make a person weak. Having the strength and courage to make meaningful healthy changes in life only builds resilience.

Truth: Friends and family are important supports for someone living with a mental illness. Listening nonjudgmental, treating loved ones with dignity and respect can make a big difference. There are also many ways to become more educated on mental health topics. Mental Health First Aid trainings, NAMI groups and community forums can help you gain knowledge that could be useful in supporting your loved one. At the same time, it is important to also take care of yourself. Consider taking a mind-body medicine group through to learn tools to manage stress and build resiliency.