How to Reduce Mental Health Stigma in American Culture

People struggling with substance abuse, depression, and a variety of mental health issues live in every city in the United States, yet stigma over their conditions remains. Over the past decade, advocates have been working to overturn mental health stigmas in the U.S. through education and awareness campaigns. For example, increased emphasis has been placed on the fact that addiction is a real illness with both medical and psychological components—not something to be dismissed or judged as a character flaw. But despite this and other pushes for increased awareness, mental health stigma is practically unchanged from a decade ago, according to a new study by Columbia University and Indiana University.

The study, which was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, gauged people’s awareness of various causes behind mental illness and addiction, alongside their social attitudes toward people dealing with these issues. Between 1996 and 2006, the study finds, awareness of how addiction and depression work improved quite a bit. But people’s attitudes toward sufferers (which are how stigma is measured) did not. Mental health stigma is a serious concern for the mental health community and for American communities in general.

Stigma not only decreases the quality of life for the individual (by impacting job opportunities and social relationships), but also discourages people from seeking treatment. The decision to find a therapist can lead to significant change in a person’s life, but stigma against the condition itself may keep people from admitting they need counseling or other help. Stigma reduction efforts in the past decade have focused largely on mental illness itself—helping people understand what it is and what it does. Instead, this new research indicates, we ought to focus on the people themselves, not simply their condition. Relating to the person, not their problems, is essential to promoting respect for humanity within the context of mental illness and mental health.

© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • frank


    September 16th, 2010 at 10:51 AM

    before we go about telling people about getting them over the stigma,I think they should do a survey with just one question-“What do you think of a person with a mental health issue in the street?”
    This simple question can get people talking about what they really think about such people and after listening them out,the volunteers or whoever asked the question can go about giving the facts and clearing the air regarding the issue!

  • Sigrun


    September 16th, 2010 at 12:19 PM

    I think we should listen to John Read about how to fight stigma:

  • Rosie


    September 16th, 2010 at 9:07 PM

    How to reduce stigma? Ask the person if he or she would react the same way as they would to a stranger if the same issue affected a family member…

    The reason why people are insensitive to others’ problems, not only regarding mental health but other issues as well, is because it is not affecting them or their loved ones…Once compassion towards the affected person comes in,all problems will be solved automatically.



    September 17th, 2010 at 7:24 AM

    Is a person who lost his leg in an accident at fault?No!

    Its d same wid these disorders too.D affected person is not at fault,n ppl really need to understand dat!

    You see,it could happen to jus anybody.Why,it could happen to you!Its jus dat you r lucky n one way of being thankful for having been lucky is to be nice to d affected lot!

  • Hannah


    September 18th, 2010 at 9:55 AM

    But the stigma is not as large as it used to be so I would hope that this is an indication that we are at least making some progress in the right direction.

  • Larry


    September 19th, 2010 at 9:17 AM

    Maybe the stigma is somewhat fading but the shame that many feel when they have to ask for help is not. This is still a huge problem in today’s society.

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