Breaking the Stigma of Mental Health Conditions

January 12, 2021
A man holding his head

Every year, millions of people in the U.S. are affected by mental illness. With such high numbers, it can be hard to understand how a strong stigma remains with a mental illness diagnosis. In this blog, we’ll hear firsthand from someone who has experienced it, and we’ll discuss the steps we can take as a society to end the stigma surrounding mental health conditions through better mental health awareness.

"The humanity we all share is more important than the mental illness we may not."

These words were spoken by Elyn Saks, J.D., Ph.D, Associate Dean and Orrin B. Evans Professor of Law, Psychology, and Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences at the University of Southern California Gould Law School. A brilliant professor, Saks lives every day with schizophrenia. In her 2012 TedTalk, Saks shares her perspective on the stigma associated with living with a mental illness, through the lens of her experience with diagnosis, restraints, treatment, and the current support she receives.

The Stigma

A key takeaway from Saks’ TedTalk is the prevalence of stigma related to her mental health. The idea that her treatment should be done “quietly” shows how socially unaccepted her schizophrenia diagnosis was to those around her. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, the average delay between onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment is 11 years. The stigma surrounding mental health plays a huge factor in that gap between symptoms and treatment.

But the ripple effect of mental illness goes beyond the individual with the diagnosis.

The National Alliance of Mental Illness estimates that 8.4 million people in the U.S. provide care to an adult with a mental or emotional health issue. Most spend an average of 32 hours per week providing that unpaid care. The stigma surrounding mental health makes the ripple effect extend to the communities we live in. Learn more here.  

Breaking the Stigma

People are instinctively apprehensive—or even scared of—that which they do not fully understand. Naturally, one of the first steps to breaking a stigma is to inform. The facts below are a great foundation for conversations on the prevalence of mental health conditions:

  • 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness
  • 1 in 20 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness
  • 17% of youth (6-17 years) experience a mental health disorder
  • Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide

Providing ample support for those with a mental illness is a big step in breaking the stigma. As Saks mentions, the three main reasons for her progress were:

  1. Appropriate treatment
  2. A strong support system of family and friends
  3. An engaging, supportive, and interesting work environment

While we know it’s important to inform others, it is equally important to also ensure you educate yourself, so that you can effectively provide the appropriate information and support mentioned above. The National Alliance of Mental Illness is a great resource for knowing the warning signs for mental illness, as well as understanding of the ripple effect the diagnosis has on the world around us.

What steps do you take in your profession to break the stigma associated with mental health conditions? Please share in the comments below—you may help inspire others!

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