parent and child walking hand in hand

It’s World Mental Health Day: Help Stop the Stigma

A man stands in front of a group of people and asks, “Who here has mental health?”

Only a handful raise their hands.

“We all have mental health,” he says.

More than 1 in 5 adults have experienced a mental disorder within the past year. And 1 in 5 children will have a mental health disorder in their lifetime. Half of those will not get treatment. The disconnect between prevalence and treatment is complicated, but one contributing factor is stigma.

Stigma is “a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something.” As it pertains to mental health disorders, fear of judgment, rejection or misunderstanding from others can contribute to people not seeking help. Those suffering may even hold some false beliefs of their own about mental health disorders, or think that they should use willpower to “get over it.” This is similar to expecting a broken bone will spontaneously mend itself if we just want it bad enough.

What can we do to help break stigma?

In our everyday lives, we can use non-stigmatizing language. We can see people first and disorders second. For example, instead of saying:

  • “She’s depressed” say, “She has depression.”
  • “He’s bipolar” say, “He has bipolar disorder.”

Casually throwing around terms such as “crazy,” “nuts,” “not normal,” “psycho,” or “schizo,” can do a great deal of harm to those around us who may personally be suffering in silence or have a friend or family member doing the same. While terms such as these can shut down a conversation and leave people fearing judgment, using language such as, “He has a mental health disorder” (if this is known) conveys acceptance.

Additionally, it is important to avoid playing an amateur detective and speculating about whether or not someone has a mental health disorder and what his or her diagnosis might be. For example, don’t say, “That kid must have ADHD” when observing a child excitedly running around. Our mental health is complex and operates on a continuum of typical thoughts, feelings and behaviors. A qualified professional can determine the presence or absence of a disorder after a thorough assessment.

Lastly, we can help by taking NAMI’s StigmaFree Pledge and encourage our friends, family members and colleagues to do the same.

Whether or not we are personally affected by a mental health disorder, we can be champions and advocates for better understanding of people who have them by challenging harmful language and beliefs when we hear them.

After all, it’s not them and us. It’s all of us.

For more information on Big Lots Behavioral Health Services at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, click here.

Jennifer Reese, PsyD
Jennifer Reese, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital who oversees the development and delivery of education for clinical staff within the Behavioral Health service line. She also serves as a faculty member for all levels of Psychology training within the hospital.

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