The Impact of Stigma on Mental Health
Heart of the Matter
Mental health conditions in the United States are widespread. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, almost 1 in 5 adults[i] lives with a mental health condition. However, the stigma[ii] surrounding these conditions is a significant barrier for people seeking help. While stigma affects everyone, racial and ethnic populations[iii] in the United States are the most negatively impacted. This is because they are less likely to seek help or speak with others about their mental health. Although it is difficult to measure the impact of anti-stigma interventions, some organizations have developed national campaigns to help reduce stigma to improve the lives of those living with a mental health condition.
Mental Health and Stigma
A mental illness[iv] is a condition that affects an individual’s thoughts, feelings, mood, or behavior. These conditions include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and many more. The stigma[v] surrounding these conditions have adverse effects on those living with the illness. Feelings of embarrassment, shame, judgment, isolation and blame are often associated with mental health conditions. While many factors influence whether an individual receives treatment for a mental health condition, such as health insurance status and availability of mental health professionals, we must consider that stigma can also play a role.
Effects of Mental Health Stigma
The stigma surrounding mental health is a pervasive problem among racial and ethnic populations. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the National Institute for Mental Health, approximately 33%[vi] of Latino Americans, 30%[vii] of African Americans, and 20%[viii]of Asian Americans received treatment for their mental health condition, compared to an average 43% of the US population.
A study[ix] found that 12% of Asian Americans were reluctant to speak to family or friends about a mental health condition, and only 3-4% would seek treatment or help. This study also concluded that for this segment of the population, stigma was “pervasive and profound.” According to the National Council of Behavioral Health, for African American adults, stigma contributes to a hesitation to even recognize[x] living with a mental health condition.
Initiatives to Destigmatize Mental Health
The adverse effects of stigma[xi] on those who need mental healthcare have received national attention. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is working to spread awareness and spark conversations about the impact of stigma on mental health. Recent campaigns like CureStigma[xii] and StigmaFree[xiii] aim to spread awareness about the dire need to break down stigma and help improve the lives of those living with a mental health condition. Celebrities and sports figures, including Mayim Bialik[xiv] and Chris Hubbard[xv], have recently joined NAMI’s anti-stigma initiatives. Bialik collaborated with NAMI to produce a video calling on Americans to take the pledge to be #stigmafree. Hubbard promoted awareness to help break down the stigma that African American men “should internalize” their mental care needs rather than seek help.
Overall, many Americans suffering from a mental health condition experience some level of stigma. This often leads them to forgo treatment and jeopardize their well-being. Racial and ethnic populations are found to be the most vulnerable to stigma. While efforts are being made by organizations to diminish these adverse effects, stigma continues to be a barrier to receiving care. Stigma is challenging to study and measure. It is unlikely that any one intervention will eliminate the stigma associated with mental health, however in order to reduce stigma it is vital to continue to educate the public, ensure access to mental health services, create and maintain open conversations about mental health and encourage individuals to seek support when needed.
[i] National Institute of Mental Health, “Mental Illness.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Feb. 2019, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml
[ii] PatientEngagementHIT, “Understanding Stigma as a Mental Healthcare Barrier.” PatientEngagementHIT, Xtelligent Healthcare Media, 5 Oct. 2018, https://patientengagementhit.com/news/understanding-stigma-as-a-mental-healthcare-barrier?utm_content=b1281c3eaa9e820f79ecee0fe1311937&utm_campaign=MHD%25206%252F8%252F17&utm_source=Robly.com&utm_medi
[iii] Victor Armstrong, “Stigma Regarding Mental Illness among People of Color.” BH365, National Council for Behavioral Health, 8 July 2019, https://www.thenationalcouncil.org/BH365/2019/07/08/stigma-regarding-mental-illness-among-people-of-color/
[iv] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Learn About Mental Health – Mental Health – CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 26 Jan. 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/learn/index.htm
[v] National Alliance on Mental Illness, “What Is Stigma? Why Is It a Problem?” NAMI, https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/StigmaFree
[vi] National Alliance on Mental Illness, “Latino Mental Health.” NAMI, https://www.nami.org/find-support/diverse-communities/latino-mental-health
[vii] National Alliance on Mental Illness, “African American Mental Health.” NAMI, https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/Diverse-Communities/African-Americans
[viii] National Institute of Mental Health, “Mental Health.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml
[ix] Office of the Surgeon General (US). “Chapter 2 Culture Counts: The Influence of Culture and Society on Mental Health.” Mental Health: Culture, Race, and Ethnicity: A Supplement to Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General (U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2001), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/books/NBK44249/
[x] Victor Armstrong, “Stigma Regarding Mental Illness among People of Color.” BH365, National Council for Behavioral Health, 8 July 2019, https://www.thenationalcouncil.org/BH365/2019/07/08/stigma-regarding-mental-illness-among-people-of-color/
[xi] National Institute of Mental Health, “There Is A Virus Spreading Across The Country. It’s Stigma. Do You Have It?” CureStigma, NAMI, https://www.nami.org/Press-Media/Press-Releases/2018/There-is-a-virus-spreading-across-the-country-It
[xii] National Institute of Mental Health, “Cure Stigma Resources.” CureStigma, NAMI, https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Awareness-Events/Awareness-Resources/Cure-Stigma-Resources
[xiii] National Institute of Mental Health, “StigmaFree Pledge.” StigmaFree, NAMI, https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Take-the-stigmafree-Pledge/StigmaFree-Me/StigmaFree-Pledge
[xiv] National Institute of Mental Health, Mayim Bialik Changes The Conversation On Mental Health And Stigma. NAMI, https://www.nami.org/Videos/Mayim-Bialik-Changes-the-Conversation-on-Mental-He
[xv] Josh Edwards, “Chris Hubbard Tackles Stigma of Mental Health,” 247 sports.com, July 23, 2019 https://247sports.com/nfl/cleveland-browns/Article/Chris-Hubbard-mental-health-stigma-NAMI-133853042/