How to Navigate the Stigma Around Mental Health

mental health

Leer en español.

PS: We Skimm'd other Mental Health topics for you here.

The story

Mental health struggles can be tough. So is dealing with the stigma that comes with them.

Stigma...remind me.

It’s a negative perception or stereotype. And it’s a pretty common problem. It can also affect whether people decide to get treatment. Stigma comes in two types…

Social stigma: The general perception from society when it comes to a mental health problem. Like, people thinking that someone with bipolar disorder is unstable or violent. When people refer to stigma, they’re usually referring to this kind.

Self-stigma: When people think negatively about themselves based on social stigma. Like, feeling embarrassed or ashamed of what they’re going through.

Why is this a thing?

A lot of it comes from people not understanding what it means to struggle to maintain good mental health. And since people don’t always understand it, they might not feel comfortable talking about it. That’s why some people think it’s a taboo topic...and why it’s a vicious cycle. The good news: millennials are apparently a lot more willing to talk about mental health than their parents or grandparents.



Yup. A 2015 study says millennials grew up hearing about mental illnesses like depression and eating disorders more than previous generations. And as a result, their generation is more accepting of mental illness and willing to talk it out. Celebs are catching on too. In recent years, everyone from Chrissy Teigen to Jon Hamm to the British royal family have talked about mental health challenges and the stigma around it.

What can I do to fight stigma?

If you’re struggling with mental health challenges, here are some tips…

Talk it out: Be open and honest about what you’re going through. Create dialogue. Whether it’s with a friend, family member, co-worker, or support group, it’s important to talk about what you’re going through. Chances are you’ll find someone else who’s going through something similar.

Educate yourself: Take the time to really understand what you’re going through: what condition you might have, how it’s caused, the side effects, etc. Oh, and teach others about it too.

Get treatment: Treat a mental illness the same way you’d treat a physical one. When your throat or stomach hurts, you go to the doctor. You should do the same when your mental health isn’t doing well too.

Don’t let an illness define you: Your illness is part of who you are, not who you are entirely. Pro-tip: instead of saying ‘I’m bipolar,’ say ‘I suffer from a bipolar disorder’

Want more ideas? Here you go.

Do mental health conditions affect everyone the same way?

No. Reminder: mental health illness affects everyone regardless of culture, race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. But nearly 60% of adults with a mental illness didn’t get mental health services the previous year.

How is it different for the LGBTQ community?

LGBTQ individuals are at least twice as likely to have a mental health condition, mostly because of fear of coming out and being discriminated against. And transgender people experience discrimination because others might not want to or be able to relate.

What about people of different ethnicities?

White Americans and American Indians/Alaska Natives are more likely to die by suicide than people of other groups. And while rates of depression are typically higher in African Americans and Hispanics than in whites, depression in blacks and Hispanics is also likely harder to be treated. Because people from racial and ethnic minority groups are less likely to receive mental health care.

Why does this happen?

There are lower rates of health insurance for these groups, meaning they likely have less access to treatment. They also might face language barriers, racism, and bias. And there’s a stigma of mental illness among minority groups.

What about women vs men?

Women are more likely to get help for mental health issues. Part of that may have to do with the stigma around talking about feelings and asking for help among men.


Stigma is a common problem when it comes to mental health. Taking the time to understand mental health and how to end the stigma around it can really make a difference.

More on Skimm MD: Mental Health here.

Sign up for the Daily Skimm and join the millions who already wake up with us.