Understanding And Talking About Mental Health Stigma And Mental Health Conditions

Dec 07,2023

Read Time: 10 minutes

Breaking The Stigma: Why Talking About Mental Health Is So Important


The mind and body are linked, but talking about mental health can be tougher than physical health. Why? Stigma plays a big role, and it often prevents people from getting the care they need. In fact, more than half of adults with mental health conditions don’t receive treatment. 

We can all play a part in breaking the mental health stigma. When we better understand mental health and can talk openly about it with others, we’re taking the right steps to improve our well-being and the well-being of our communities.


What Is Mental Health Stigma? 


Stigma is when we, as a society, hold negative beliefs about a trait or characteristic we might not fully understand. There are two main types of mental health stigma: 

  • Self-stigma describes our negative feelings about our own mental health issues. When we feel shame or embarrassment about our mental health, it’s harder to talk about what we’re dealing with openly and ask for help.
  • Public stigma describes the unfair way that society views mental health. This can lead people to fear, reject, or discriminate against people who are dealing with mental health conditions. 

Mental health stigma is a serious issue, and its effects can be devastating. According to the American Psychiatry Association, mental health stigma can lead to:

  • Bullying and violence.
  • Lower self-esteem.
  • Worse symptoms.
  • Trouble at work.
  • Reluctance to seek or stick with mental health treatment.
  • Social isolation.


What Are Mental Health Conditions? 


Many of us deal with mental health issues from time to time, especially during periods of stress or uncertainty. Mental health conditions, however, are disorders that affect how we feel, think, and act. They can make daily life much harder and make you feel terrible.


Many factors influence whether or not someone develops a mental health condition, including genetics, environment, stressful events, and chemical differences in the brain. They can be short-term or something you deal with over a lifetime.


They’re also very common. More than 1 in 5 U.S. adults live with a mental health condition, which makes it about twice as common as diabetes


Common mental health conditions include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Psychotic disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Personality disorders


How Can We Be More Aware Of Mental Health Conditions?


Signs someone might be struggling with a mental health condition include:

  • Withdrawing from friends and social activities.
  • Sudden mood changes.
  • Problems with drug or alcohol use.
  • Changes in sleep, eating, or self-care habits.
  • Problems at work or school.
  • Excessive feelings of anger, guilt, or fear. 


If you see these signs in a friend or family member, reach out. You can support them by asking them to talk about what they’re dealing with, offering to help connect them to treatment, and reassuring them you care. Most importantly, continue to treat them with respect, empathy, and dignity.


How To Talk About Mental Health With Compassion


It’s important to use care and show compassion when talking about mental health. Here are three tips to keep in mind: 

  1. Think about labels. Remember, mental health conditions aren’t flaws or weaknesses. A person doesn’t choose to have a mental health condition, just like they don’t choose to have a physical one. We often treat people with cancer or other physical health issues as heroes. We use terms like “brave” and “strong” to describe their battle with the disease. People with mental health conditions are more likely to hear harmful terms like “paranoid” and “weak.” This may make those with mental health conditions feel like it’s their fault.
  2. Don’t define people by their mental health condition. Instead, we should keep in mind that they’re living with one. For example, a person is not schizophrenic: They have schizophrenia. Just like a person has the flu, but is not a flu. Referring to people as an illness reduces their ability to see themselves as separate from it.
  3. It’s not a taboo topic. Don’t be afraid to talk about mental health conditions openly, whether you’re the one dealing with an issue or are talking with someone else about what they’re going through. Normalizing conversations about mental health — including treatment, symptoms, and recovery — can teach others to be more understanding. 


What Does Treatment Look Like?


Treating mental health conditions looks different for everyone. Talking to a primary care doctor is a good first step. They may refer you to a mental health specialist, who will work with you to create a treatment plan. This can include counseling, therapy, medication, peer support, or a mix of treatments. They might suggest lifestyle changes, too, such as tweaks to your eating habits, exercise, or quitting smoking.


When it comes to overcoming mental health stigma, a brighter future is possible. The more we learn about mental health conditions, the more empowered we’ll be to help ourselves and those around us.