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Mental Health & Addiction: Overcoming Stigma

Mental Health & Addiction: Overcoming Stigma

Because of internal and external stigma, many people with mental illness do not receive the treatment they need. Likewise, stigma can also impact an individuals’ quality of life in other ways, even when they’re in treatment or receiving support.

What Is Stigma?

Stigma is a set of unfair, negative beliefs about a certain group of people, such as people with mental health issues or addiction. For example, people with these conditions may be unfairly viewed as unstable, violent, dangerous, or unreliable simply because of their mental health status and the stigma that accompanies it. The stigma associated with mental health and addiction can lead to a variety of issues. Some of the possible effects of mental health stigma include:

  • discrimination in professional and social settings
  • lack of understanding from friends, family members, or colleagues
  • bullying
  • poor self-esteem
  • lack of confidence
  • reluctance to get professional help


Types Of Stigma

Different types of mental health stigma can affect the life of someone living with a mental or behavioral health condition. Some of the types of stigma that may be encountered include:

Public Stigma

Public stigma is a group of beliefs held by the general public that can ultimately cause discrimination, prejudice, and stereotypes against people with mental health problems.

Structural Stigma

Structural stigma occurs when societal structures and policies prevent people with mental health conditions from having the same opportunities as those who do not have these conditions.

Health Practitioner Stigma

In some cases, health practitioners may make diagnosis and treatment decisions based on stereotypes, racial prejudices, or unfair beliefs about mental illness. This is known as “health practitioner stigma.”

Perceived Stigma

Perceived stigma is when people with mental illness believe that others see them in a negative light, whether or not these perceptions actually exist. This can be especially true for people with bipolar disorder and depression.


Self-stigma is when people with mental health conditions, including substance use disorder, internalize stereotypical negative beliefs related to public stigma. This internalized stigma can be a deep-seeded barrier to seeking care and support.

Stigma By Association

Stigma by association occurs when stigma is extended to friends and family members simply because of their relationship with an individual who has a mental health condition.

Label Avoidance

One of the most harmful types of mental health stigma is label avoidance, which leads people with mental health symptoms to avoid treatment because of fear that they will be labeled as mentally ill or unfit.

Overcoming Stigma

Stigma can become a significant obstacle to successful treatment for addiction or other mental health disorders. Stigma can also prevent people with these conditions from being as productive and fulfilled in their lives as they could be. For this reason, combating mental health stigma should be a priority in the medical field, among individual patients, and in the general public. Here are some strategies that can be used to overcome stigma:

1. Changing The Language

One of the most important strategies that can be used to overcome stigma in all circles is to change the way mental health and substance use disorders are discussed. The language used to describe mental health and the people struggling with it makes a difference in the way these issues are perceived. For example, eliminating terms like “addict” that define an individual by their disorder can go a long way toward eliminating stigma.

2. Educate

Many of the negative beliefs and stereotypes that exist about mental illness are the result of a lack of understanding, both among healthcare professionals and in the general public. Educating people with regard to the truth about mental health, including the availability of effective treatments and the ability of people with mental illness to live productive and healthy lives, can reduce stigma significantly.

3. Face Stigma Head On

If you live with mental illness or addiction and are confronted with stigma, refuse to accept these negative beliefs as truth. Stand up for yourself. If the stigma is causing you to lose an important opportunity, consider reaching out for support or advocacy.

4. Share Your Story

One of the best things you can do to combat stigma is to share your story with others. When people see someone who is living a full, healthy life with mental illness, they’re less likely to subscribe to stereotypes. Not only will this improve public perceptions of mental illness, but it will also be inspiring for others dealing with their own mental health issues. People dealing with addiction or other mental health conditions should never allow stigma to stop them from getting the help they need. If you or someone you love is experiencing symptoms of mental illness, seek professional treatment regardless of stigma.