Why is there a Stigma Attached to Mental Health and Mental Illness

If you or a loved one have a mental health disorder, then you know that mental illnesses have a stigma attached to them, unlike any other disease. Someone who has diabetes, for example, will typically experience sympathy from those they tell about their disease, and those around them will try to help them accommodate the changes they have to make to treat their condition.

Mental health problems tend to be different. Those who have a mental illness are often afraid of discussing their condition with others, as they are afraid of being thought of as unstable or “crazy”. These fears are often founded in reality, as a society, in general, tends to have the view that a mental health problem is somehow a type of defect in someone’s personality or something that they aren’t strong enough to overcome. There is often some form of the blame on the person with the mental illness, instead of a more compassionate approach that understands there is a disease-causing the symptoms of the mental health disorder.

There are many different sources of this stigma affecting how people view mental health and mental illnesses.

Mental Health Problems are Untestable

While you can get an X-ray to test for a broken arm or a blood test to diagnose a thyroid condition, there are no medical tests that can definitely show that mental illness exists. Mental health disorders are often caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, changes in the wiring in the brain, and other factors that cannot be easily tested. Medical scientists are still not entirely sure what causes several types of mental health problems, making definitive testing for these illnesses almost impossible.

Mental Health Problems are Unrelatable

Unless you have a mental health disorder, it is impossible to understand what it can be like to have one. People with mental illnesses have literally lost the ability to control certain emotions, actions, or thoughts. For most people who are able to control their thoughts, emotions, and actions, the idea of not being able to control these things is inconceivable. While people recognize physical limitations, like someone being unable lift their arm when it is broken, they find it much more difficult to recognize psychological limitations that happen with mental health problems.

Societal Beliefs

Societal beliefs about mental health disorders are influenced by historic misconceptions about mental illnesses and are reinforced in how mental health is portrayed by others. Mental illness is made light of in ways that have become mainstream and that people do not even consider it. “That’s crazy” or calling someone crazy is often a lighthearted or silly way of referring to a person or event. Calling someone “psycho” when they are acting unusual is commonplace. These seemly innocent phrases can display subconscious societal bias about mental health problems and reinforce the idea that mental health is under someone’s control.

Pop Culture Portrayals

Mental illness is portrayed in movies and TV shows as making someone normal one second and erratically attacking others and experiencing hallucinations the next. While only a very small percentage of those with mental health disorders actually have hallucinations or act aggressively, an embellished version of these types of illnesses are the only ones that are portrayed by the entertainment industry. The most common types of mental illnesses are actually anxiety disorders and depression – illnesses that affect mood. Mental health problems that affect behavior are unusual and rare but, because they are the ones promoted in pop culture, people tend to associate these behaviors with mental health disorders.

How to Fight the Stigma

There is no doubt that there is a stigma about mental health; the question is if you are contributing to this stigma or helping reduce it. While many people do not want to contribute to a false stigma, they do not understand how to fight it. We have provided several strategies that you can use to help fight the stigma and get others to understand the truth about mental health problems.

Educate Yourself

Knowledge is the key to helping fight a false stigma. There is a lot of good information available on the internet and on the Transformations Treatment Center’s website. Be sure to seek out reputable medical sites and to only use information that is created by healthcare professionals. When educating yourself about mental health disorders, you should try to learn about what causes the illness, the basic science behind it, what people with the illness say it is like, and how people with that illness are treated. Pay careful attention to the symptoms that people with that illness actually experience to learn about how it affects them and what they have to deal with.

Be Aware of Your Own Stigmas

Chances are, you likely have some stigmas of your own without realizing it. Learning the truth about mental illnesses and what kinds of stigmas exist can help you to examine your own beliefs about mental health disorders and understand what types of stigmas you have. Understanding your own stigmas will help you to have a more accurate view on what mental health is and help you to reduce these false stigmas when you encounter them.

Talk With People Who Have a Mental Health Problem

One of the best ways to learn what it is actually like to have a mental health problem is to talk to someone with one. One in five adults in America have a mental illness, and the odds are that you know several people who have struggled with a mental health disorder. You can post on social media about your desire to speak to those with mental illnesses to learn more about it, asking people who are willing to talk about it to message you privately. You may be surprised to learn who you know that has mental health problems and has still been able to lead a normal life without you ever knowing it! Speaking with those struggling with mental health problems can help you understand how it affects others.

Discuss Expressions of Stigma in Society When Observed

Talking about stigma when you observe it can help to reduce the stigma that exists in society overall. Obviously there needs to be some balance and discretion as to how you do this, but taking the opportunity to provide feedback to others and have a reasonable discussion about metal illness stigmas can help to reduce societal stigmas connected with mental illness.

What to Do When Mental Health Disorders Occur

If you or a loved one may have a mental health disorder, then you should know that, realistically, there may be some people who will not understand what you are going through. While some people in society do not understand mental illness, healthcare professionals do understand how mental health problems affect others and how to help. If you reach out to a healthcare professional for help, they will help you to understand what is causing your mental illness and how to get the treatment you need. Many mental health disorders are easily treated and managed, and you could lead a normal life by reaching out to someone for the help you need.

Transformations Treatment Centers

The understanding and caring team at Transformations Treatment Centers knows about the stigmas people with mental health disorders face and are dedicated to help you overcome mental health problems without feeling judged or broken. Mental illness is a disease, and like any other disease, can be treated and managed if you reach out to a caring professional for help.


National Institute of Mental Health. Home Page. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/index.shtml

Corrigan, P. W. & Watson, A. C. (2002). Understanding the impact of stigma on people with mental illness. World Psychiatry 1(1): 16–20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1489832/

National Alliance on Mental Illness. Mental Health By the Numbers. https://www.nami.org/mhstats

National Alliance on Mental Illness. Warning Signs and Symptoms. https://www.nami.org/mhstats

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