One in five American adults suffer from mental illness, but less than half of them seek treatment in a given year. Stigma is a major deterrent for many. The social stigma associated with mental illness is what causes many people to disapprove of, reject and discriminate against those who suffer from it. And the treatment that sufferers receive from others often causes self-stigma, or internalized stigmatization, which causes them to feel shame and ultimately keeps them from seeking help.
Not only does stigma keep sufferers from seeking help, it also changes the way others look at them. Someone with a known mental health condition may not have their complaints taken seriously by a doctor or may be determined to be unfit to care for their children, based solely on discrimination.
The mental health stigma can have some serious consequences—not only for individuals, but for our society. 70% of youth in juvenile justice systems suffer from a mental illness and 26% of homeless adults in shelters have a serious mental illness. 37% of students with a mental health condition (aged 14 and over) drop out of school—this is the highest dropout rate of any disability group. Serious mental illness costs the U.S. almost $200 billion in lost earnings every year.
The stigma surrounding mental health and mental illness is a profoundly serious problem—its effects are felt not only by those suffering from mental illness, but by all of us. That in mind, we all need to work together to combat the stigma. There are so many ways you can personally fight the stigma: you can talk openly about your mental health and mental health in general, educate yourself and others, and discuss the way that the media stigmatizes mental health (and don’t be afraid to let the media know about it).
Most importantly, you can fight back by not perpetuating the stigma. Don’t use words like “crazy” or “psycho” to describe someone with a mental illness—or to describe anyone, for that matter. Don’t chalk someone’s bad behavior up to mental illness. Encourage the people in your life to talk about their mental health and to rethink their views on mental illness. Mental healthcare is healthcare. We all deserve access to it, without discrimination, without shame and without fear. When we all work together to fight the stigma, we help each other. Your advocacy could give someone the support they need to seek treatment and achieve a better quality of life—or it could even save their life.
If you want to help combat the stigma, please consider taking the pledge to rethink stigma today! It’s a small thing, but taking the pledge serves as a notice to others and a reminder to yourself that you’re committed to fighting the stigma that surrounds mental healthcare.