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Ending the mental health stigma

Posted at 11:16 AM, Sep 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-12 17:31:18-04

Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Southern Arizona, Clarke Romans says the roots of mental illness stigma go back a long time.

Romans says, "Mental illnesses are kind of mysterious and the only observable sign of a mental illness is a person behavior. Many other disorders have visible signs. For instance, if you're missing a limb or someone who is blind."

"Mental illnesses are observed often times by the person living with the symptom but they don't know what it is because of stigma self-perpetuates," says Romans. 

What is Stigma?

  • An attempt to label a particular group of people as less worthy of respect than others.

  • A mark of shame, disgrace or disapproval that results in discrimination.

  • Not just a matter of using the wrong word or action – its about disrespect.

What does Stigma lead to?

  • Inadequate insurance coverage for mental health services.

  • Fear, mistrust, and violence against people living with mental illness and their families.

  • Family and friends turning their backs on people with mental illness

  • Prejudice and discrimination

  • Discrimination against people who have mental illnesses, keeps them from seeking help. While 1 in 5 Americans live with a mental disorder, estimates indicate that nearly two-thirds of all people with a diagnosable mental illness do not seek treatment, especially people from diverse communities. Lack of knowledge, fear of disclosure, rejection of friends, and discrimination are a few reasons why people with mental illness seek help.

  • Discrimination against people with mental illness violates their rights and denies them opportunities Despite Civil Rights Law such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, people with mental illnesses often experience discrimination in the workplace, education, housing, and healthcare. Ethnic and racial communities in the US face a social and economic environment of inequality that includes greater exposure to racism, discrimination, violence and poverty.

  • Mistrust of mental health services is an important reason for deterring people of color from seeking treatment. Their concerns are reinforced by evidence (both direct and indirect) of clinician bias and stereotyping The cultures of racial and ethnic groups alter the types of mental health services used. Clinical environments that do not respect or are incompatible with the cultures of the people they serve may deter people from seeking help to begin with, adherence to treatment and follow-up care.

  • Culture Counts – One’s racial or ethnic background bears upon whether people even seek help in the first place, what types of help they seek, what coping styles and social supports they have, and how much stigma they attach to mental illness.

Advocates with NAMI say, no one is born with stigma, they learn it. "So people have learned through the societal language that mental illness is not something you want.



As time has gone on people who were in the medical field or other fields began to understand that these were a group of disorders but because they couldn't really identify where they're coming from, why they're happening, what they look like - myths grew out.

Romans says early intervention is crucial because it leads to better outcomes. "If we can identify these disorders when they're first beginning to manifest themselves in young people and children then the treatements are much easier and the outcomes are so much better. The lives we can save are tremendous.

How can you fight mental illness stigma? 

  • Never use terms like crazy, lunatic, psycho, retarded and correct people who do so.


  • Provide professional development opportunities for staff, regarding diversity, mental health issues, and fostering an inclusive work environment.

  • Include mental illness in discussions about acceptance of diversity, just as you would discuss cultural diversity, religious beliefs, physical disability, and sexual orientation.

  • Become an advocate: Create awareness by writing letters to newspapers and lawmakers. Speak out and challenge stereotypes portrayed in the media. Take it upon yourself to inform your community about the truth of mental illness.

  • Spread understanding that these are illnesses like any other.

Are you #stigmafree? Take the quiz here.

Take the pledge to fight Mental Illness Stigma. 

For programs and services at the National Alliance on Metal illness Southern Arizona, click here.

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