8 Ways to Challenge Mental Health Stigma

We can't go into Mental Health Awareness Month without talking about mental health stigma. A stigma is a social mark of disgrace when associated with a concept. So, mental health stigma is a social mark of disgrace for anyone who admits to having a mental health concern. This leads to a whole host of problems like refusing to seek treatment, refusing to tell anyone about their struggles, and maladaptive coping (like using illegal drugs, sex, or self-harm). Thankfully, we've started moving away from the stigma (just a little bit!), as we've seen a cultural shift in the way we talk about mental health. But what else can we do to challenge the stigma that lives so deeply in our society? We'll let you know how.

  1. Have open conversations about mental health. It's important to have open conversations about mental health in order to destigmatize it. This can be done by talking about your own experiences with mental illness, or by listening and showing support to someone who is opening up to you about their struggles. You don't have to go into detail about the struggles you've experienced, but it's okay to acknowledge that they exist. The more we talk about mental health, the more normalized it will become.

  2. Educate yourself about mental health. Take the time to learn about mental health. There are a lot of myths and misunderstandings out there, so it's important to educate yourself on the facts. This will help you to have more informed conversations about mental health, and it will also help you to be more understanding and compassionate towards others. It can be through a simple Google or YouTube search like, "How to support someone with depression" or "What does trauma do to mental health?" You can access information directly from the mental health community this way. Just be sure it's from a reputable source!

  3. Be conscious about the language that's used. The language that we use can have a big impact on how we think about mental health. For example, using the word "crazy" to describe someone who is acting out of the norm perpetuates the idea that mental illness is something to be feared and that those who experience it are not in control of their own minds (not to mention it's very ableist). You may have also heard OCD as being used to describe someone who's neat or particular about their environment when it's a very real disorder for someone experiencing invasive thoughts and nearly uncontrollable compulsions. You may also have heard someone being described as "bipolar" when they have a mood swing, when those with Bipolar Disorder experience manic or hypomanic episodes. These things are not the same! So, it's important to be mindful about the language that you use when talking about mental health.

  4. Equate mental health to physical health. This is something that we should all be doing, but it's especially important for those who work in the mental health field. When you think about it, there is no difference between physical and mental health. In the same way you would want to take medication to keep your blood pressure low, you would want to take medication to be sure your depression doesn't keep you from performing everyday tasks. When someone is diagnosed with diabetes, we don't tell them to fix it on their own. We shouldn't tell that to folx struggling with their mental health, either. Mental health care is medical healthcare, and it's okay to treat it that way!

  5. Have empathy. This one is pretty self-explanatory, but it's so important. When someone is going through a tough time, the last thing they need is to be judged or have people tell them that they're making things up. Everyone's experiences are valid, and everyone deserves to be treated with compassion. Just because someone doesn't look like they're struggling, doesn't mean that they aren't. We all know what it's like to struggle, and many of us know what it's like to have to hide it from others.

  6. Choose empowerment. When people are experiencing negative mental health symptoms like depression or anxiety, we need to consider the whole context. It's likely that a person is experiencing a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. Our bodies are built to survive to the point where even our brains are working extra hard to make sure we function. Sometimes this evidence of survival are the mental health symptoms we see. While the suffering is difficult, look at how long their bodies and brains have helped them survive. We can help each other thrive by naming this and being open to support.

  7. Normalize treatment. Taking medications? Cool. Going to therapy? Sweet. You were hospitalized? Glad to see you're back! These should all be seen as okay and normal things! Unfortunately, mental health stigma has led to a lot of shame around seeking help and taking care of oneself. This needs to stop. If we want people to seek out treatment, we need to show them that it's not something to be ashamed of. All of these things are a form of healthcare.

  8. Challenge the harmful narratives. Society always deems folx with mental health diagnoses as dangerous or unpredictable. This is so far from the truth! In fact, people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than those without. The best way to challenge these narratives is to disagree and share information that counters these harmful ideas. You can share as much of your own experience as you feel comfortable; that part is not a requirement!

These are just some of the ways that we can work to challenge mental health stigma. We're aware that this list covers the majority of society and not necessarily BIPOC or LGBTQIA+ folx. We're also aware that there are individual differences in other communities that might make this list ten times longer. Regardless, we all have a part to play in making sure that those around us feel comfortable and safe talking about their experiences. While the general attitude toward mental health is changing, we still have a lot of changes to make before we can achieve affirming care without the stigma.

If you are in the process of dipping your toe into therapy, we encourage you to reach out to us! Cultured Space is a therapy practice in which our therapists attend to clients' important identities. BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ folx are welcome, affirmed, and honored. We want to create a therapy relationship where you are able to be your authentic self. When you're ready schedule an appointment with us today!