Despite all of the advances made in understanding depression and other mental illnesses, these conditions are still stigmatized. The negative perception of mental illness probably comes from people not understanding mental illness or what it means to struggle with a mental illness. Mental illness stigma can lead to feelings of shame and self-consciousness. It can negatively impact help-seeking as well as early detection and prevention. Standing up to mental health stigma is an important way to support your own mental health and give a voice to those who are suffering in silence.
Ways to fight stigma and support mental health:
Gain perspective. When thinking about the role depression plays in someone else’s life or in your own life, here are some statements to share/take to heart:
- Depression is something you have. It does not define you.
- You are much more than your diagnosis. Your personality, talents, skills, and compassion are your defining traits – not your depression.
- Like diabetes or cancer, depression is a physical illness that needs to be carefully treated. Just as a diabetic should take daily steps to monitor and control blood sugar levels, you should take action to monitor and control your symptoms of depression.
Share your mental health journey with others. Sharing your story about mental illness or recovery from a mental illness can be empowering both for you and for others who are struggling with a mental illness. Use your story to prove that harmful stereotypes about mental illness are not true, and to encourage others to speak up and seek help. There are many ways to share your story. Here are some places you can share: https://nostigmas.org & https://thisismybrave.org.
Share positive messages about mental health. Use social media or another approach to openly discuss mental health, to show your support for others who do so, and to share validated information about mental illness and treatment.
Educate yourself and others about mental health. Education can reduce stigma and improve the environment surrounding mental illness. Education is the most powerful tool you can use to counter any shame you may feel about your mental illness and to make sure others know what mental illness is (and isn’t).
Be conscious of your language. Words matter. Avoid using hurtful words and labels such as “nuts”, “crazy”, or “strange” when talking about yourself or someone else with a mental illness. Use respectful language when talking about mental health. Instead of “the mentally ill” use “people with a mental illness” and instead of “committed suicide” use “died by suicide”. Let someone know if you hear them using harmful language.
Recognize someone’s identity outside of their illness. Viewing someone as their diagnosis reduces the complexity of their experience; their diagnosis is not the defining factor of their identity.
Support local and national mental health organizations and crisis centers. Volunteer or donate to organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to support this life-saving work. Join one of many groups online and in person that advocate for people with mental illness.
Speak up. If you suspect that someone may be in a crisis or is struggling with their mental health, send messages of support and assist them in getting the help they need. There are even ways to help if you see someone post a status on social media that shows signs of self-harm. Reach out to them or someone who knows them, or report it to the social media site.
Be a mental health advocate. You may decide to start or sign a petition, write to your elected representatives, start a mental health blog, or spread mental health awareness in some other way. Organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) (link is external)and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA)(link is external) can provide ideas and support for advocacy initiatives.
Alonso, J., Buron, A., Bruffaerts, R., He, Y., Posada‐Villa, J., Lepine, J. P., ... & Mneimneh, Z. N. (2008). Association of perceived stigma and mood and anxiety disorders: results from the World Mental Health Surveys. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 118(4), 305-314.
Schnyder, N., Panczak, R., Groth, N., & Schultze-Lutter, F. (2017). Association between mental health-related stigma and active help-seeking: systematic review and meta-analysis. The British Journal of Psychiatry, bjp-bp.