Mental Illness Stigma And Discrimination

Last week was the annual Mental Illness Awareness Week (#MIAW). This year the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) called on every American to join them in shining a light on mental illness and help them replace stigma with hope. The fight for a #StigmaFree America has been hard going, and while we have come a long way with regard to how we look at mental health disorders—there is still a lot of work to be done.

It is through ending the disgrace that has long been attached to the hip of mental illness that we will be able to encourage people who are suffering to seek help. It is a troubling reality when considering the fact that close to one in five American adults will experience a mental health disorder in any given year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Sadly, less than half of those who are afflicted will receive any form of treatment.

There are a number of options for people living with mental illness, whether the issue is depression, substance use disorder or both at the same time. Yet, despite various therapies and treatments some people are hesitant to seek help. The reasons people will choose to not seek help are varied to say the least, but much of the time it is because of social stigma. So, what is stigma? Below we have listed a definition:


a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.

“the stigma of mental disorder”

Mental Illness Stigma And Discrimination

Those who work in the field of addiction medicine and mental health services, to be sure, are no strangers to the word stigma. People with any form of mental illness have been branded with a mark of shame for time immemorial. And it is well understood that the aforementioned shaming keeps many from reaching out for help. So, wouldn’t it stand to reason to call the way people with mental health disorders are treated, discrimination? Well, the Deputy Healthy Living Editor at The Huffington Post, Lindsay Holmes, seems to think so, and it is difficult to not agree with her line of thinking. Holmes writes:

“The negative stereotypes that shame those with mental illness and prevent them from seeking help don’t just constitute stigma ― they’re discrimination. It’s a blatant, prejudicial outlook on a certain population.”

Kana Enomoto, principal deputy administrator of the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) points out that the way in which society treats those with mental illness, goes way beyond just branding them with mark of shame, according to the article. People with any form of mental illness are treated far differently than others who are in similar situations, but do not suffer from a mental health disorder. Here are some facts, people with mental illness are:

  • More likely to encounter law enforcement than get medical help during a psychological crisis.
  • In jails and prisons, more than in hospitals.
  • Blamed for violence when they’re more likely to be the victims.
  • Homeless at higher rates.
  • Seen as a danger to society, to other people, to themselves.

Change The Language

If we change how we talk about mental illness, people may take it more seriously, according to Enomoto. He points out that SAMHSA has stopped using the word ‘stigma.’ There has to be an end to the systemic intolerance of those who suffer from mental illness. People with mental illness have faced centuries of discrimination, which we can all have a hand in ending. One voice can travel a long way, but when millions of voices join together, the effect can resonate around the planet. Changing the way people with mental illness are treated is not just good for the afflicted, it is good for society.

Treating Mental Health Issues

Family Recovery Specialists understands the sensitive relationship between substance abuse and mental health problems. Offering a highly individualized approach to adult and teen substance abuse and mental health treatment, we provide family therapy, outpatient rehab, at-risk programs, therapeutic consulting, intervention, crisis management, and recovery coaching for guests suffering with substance use and mental health disorders.

We are proud to be part of the #StigmaFree conversation.

Tap to GET HELP NOW: (855) 251-0493