9 Ways You Can Reduce Mental Health Stigma and Discrimination


We all know that mental health problems and addictions are treated differently than other health conditions. If you or your family member is struggling with a new diagnosis of diabetes, you’ll likely receive compassion and support. But nobody wants to hear about it when the diagnosis is depression or heroin addiction.

What can any of us do to change things?

1.     Tell your story unapologetically.

Speak out, even if doing so is scary or discouraged. It’s easy for people to assume that mental illness aren’t real, or that addictions only happen in bad families, when people (and families) in crisis are pressured into silence. Don’t be silent.

2.     Learn about the prevalence of mental health and addiction problems. Look and listen for signs in the people around you.

Maybe you aren’t affected, and you don’t have a story to tell. But someone in your life is suffering, whether you know about it or not. Learn about the high (and rising) rates of mental illness and addiction, and learn how to spot signs so you can be supportive.

3.     Speak up when you hear discrimination.

People continue to voice discriminating beliefs and use hurtful language. Whether it’s a comment like, “Autism isn’t a real thing. It’s been made up by the greedy healthcare industry,” or “People who get addicted to drugs deserve what they get,” it’s time for ugly commentary to be addressed. Sufferers and their loved ones constantly hear these kinds of remarks, and they deserve better. Speak up when you hear it.

4.     Show up for a friend in need. Truly listen.

Too often, friends and family retreat from mental health and addiction problems. Maybe you don’t know what to say, or you don’t want to shame your loved on by opening up a conversation they don’t want to have. It’s okay not to know what to say, but show up. Sit down. Have coffee. Just listen. It helps.

5.     Know your local resources.

Understand the basic resources in your community, so you can help someone find care if needed. Most communities have resource guides or websites with community resources. If you’re not sure where to look, consider starting with your local NAMI chapter.

6.     Learn the lingo. Use it properly.

Mental health language is constantly updated as conditions are better understood, and also when the old language has been adopted by the public in a pejorative way. For example, the term “Mental Retardation” has been changed because of the ways it was being used to contribute to discrimination. Learn the current terms. Use them appropriately. Ask the same of the people around you.

7.     Stop using mental health labels as sentence enhancers.

You’re not “So depressed!” when you have a bad day or “Bipolar” when you’re moody. Stop using mental health words this way. Ask the same of the people around you.

8.     Demand fairness from lawmakers.

Mental health and addiction are still not covered fairly by insurance or Medicare/Medicaid, and they are still not subject to all of the same legal protections as other health conditions. Speak up and ask for fairness under the law.

9.     Give.

Whether you can give time, or money, or some other resource, give to mental health causes.

Posted on July 23, 2018 .