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How to talk about mental health stigma

May 02, 2023
People often use the term “stigma” to describe the shame or embarrassment some may feel about struggling with mental health. Stigma can hurt relationships, work, and family, and make a person who needs care more afraid to seek help. Addressing mental health stigma is important because the very concept of shame makes it difficult for many individuals with mental health conditions to seek help.
What is considered a mental health condition?
Mental health condition applies to disorders of the mind and can be as broad and wide as physical illness. Mental health conditions include event-specific issues that cause post-traumatic stress disorder, depression that is passed down from a parent to a child, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Mental health issues can happen once, many times, or even be ongoing.
How can we be more aware of mental health conditions?
There are signs to watch for. Examples include:
  • Sudden social issues
  • Problems at work or school
  • Changes in sleeping, eating, or self-care
  • Excessive drinking or drug misuse
  • Mood changes
How can I help myself?
Going to a primary care doctor might be the right first step for finding mental health help. Your primary care doctor may refer you to a mental health specialist. From there, the mental health professional will work with you to develop a treatment plan. This can include counseling, therapy, medication, care without medicines, or a mix of treatments. They may suggest lifestyle changes, too, such as adjusting your eating habits, exercise, or quitting smoking.
Working with a healthcare professional to identify a mental health condition will help get you on the path to treatment sooner. There is no shame in taking care of yourself. The more you learn about your disorder, the more empowered you will feel.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis and needs help right away, call 988 or chat via to connect with a trained crisis counselor.
How to talk about mental health with compassion
It’s important to use care and show compassion when discussing mental health. Remember, people generally don’t want a mental health condition any more than they want a physical one. A person doesn’t choose depression, just like they don’t choose heart disease.
Think about labels. We often treat people with cancer or other physical health issues as heroes. We use terms like brave and strong to describe their battle with the disease. People with mental health conditions are more likely to hear harmful terms like paranoid and delusional, and that they are suffering from their disorder. This may make those with a mental health condition feel hopeless.
We shouldn’t define people by their mental health condition. Instead, we should keep in mind that they have one. For example, a person is not schizophrenic – they have schizophrenia. Just like a person has the flu – but is not a flu. Referring to people as an illness reduces their ability to see themselves as separate from it.
For more information and helpful resources, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Massachusetts website