What is Stigma?

Portrait of Denise Green holding treats she baked.

Stigma...stigma is a lot of things. Stigma is an ugly thing, because it keeps you in a little box. If you're told that you have a condition and that you just need to accept that you can never live life beyond your mental illness, it keeps you from growing. It keeps you from dreaming. So, why should you get out of your pajamas? Why should you go outside for a walk? Why should you even worry about what's for dinner if this is your life? Achieving more is how I break stigma. If it's creating a new recipe, if it's losing ten pounds, if it's getting an 'A' on a paper, if it's just waking up and going to work, then going home and cooking dinner - those are all things that I have learned to do and break stigma that people with mental illness can't live "normal" lives. It doesn't mean that it's stress-free. It doesn't mean that it's easy, but it is always possible.

What Stigma Creates

Stigma is made up of the everyday myths and stereotypes attached to a particular label, such as a mental health diagnosis. Stigma leads people to make negative assumptions about other people before getting to know them and their abilities, hopes and dreams. It creates misconceptions about what living with mental health challenges is like. When what we perceive mental illness to be is false, it makes recovery difficult. 

The truth is mental health challenges are more common than you might think. More than half of us will experience a diagnosable mental health condition in our lifetime. There is no “us and them;” mental illness is simply part of the human experience.

Unfortunately, the majority of people don’t seek the help they need due to the stigma, shame and discrimination they face. Many fear being judged, and this can make it difficult for a person to open up about their mental health. 

When stigma is removed, our family, loved ones and neighbors can heal and make important contributions to the community.

What You Can Do to Fight Stigma

  • Landlords, employers and teachers can pledge to provide reasonable accommodations for people living with mental health challenges.
  • Parents and family members can pledge to listen with care as your loved ones share their challenges with you. Your support can make all the difference.
  • Young people can stand up for people who are being treated differently because of their mental health conditions. You cna be a friend to a person who feels completely alone.
  • Everyone can pledge to reflect on the language the use. Words like “crazy” and casual uses of “bipolar,” “schizo” or “my OCD” can be profoundly hurtful to someone living with a mental health diagnosis. Making the effort to use “people first language” is a way to be supportive and reduce stigma.
  • Think of ways to be inclusive. Community and a sense of purpose are integral parts of recovery.