stigma icon


Stigma is the shame or blame caused by false, unfair or negative beliefs that some people have about something that they don't understand - like mental illness.



Know the facts.


  • Most mental health disorders can be diagnosed and treated, but stigma often keeps people from getting the help they need.
  • Thirty-two million people in the US, or one out of ten people, live with an untreated mental health disorder.
  • Many people don’t seek help because of the fear and shame associated with stigma! This shame can make people afraid to say that they have a mental health disorder, or that someone they love has a mental health disorder.
  • Stigma can result in shame and/or blame: shame that someone will find out and will think badly of the person and/or family and blame that someone (self, parent, friend) is responsible for somehow causing the mental health disorder.

The consequences of stigma can be very serious. Instead of seeking treatment, people who are struggling with the symptoms of a mental health disorder often live in silence. They may fear for their jobs and the acceptance and understanding of their loved ones. Consequently, they tend to not talk openly about what they are experiencing. Therefore, people with mental health disorders often suffer twice, even though they have not done anything to cause their illness.

People who do not understand mental health disorders can make unkind or insensitive remarks. This is hurtful and contributes to stigma and shame. Myths, misunderstandings, and the media often portray those with a mental health disorder as being "crazy" or dangerous. However, the truth is that people with mental health disorders are no more violent than anyone else.

By Laura Greenstein | Oct. 11, 2017 | NAMI

Most people who live with mental illness have, at some point, been blamed for their condition. They’ve been called names. Their symptoms have been referred to as “a phase” or something they can control “if they only tried.” They have been illegally discriminated against, with no justice. This is the unwieldy power that stigma holds.

Stigma causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control. Worst of all, stigma prevents people from seeking the help they need. For a group of people who already carry such a heavy burden, stigma is an unacceptable addition to their pain. And while stigma has reduced in recent years, the pace of progress has not been quick enough.

All of us in the mental health community need to raise our voices against stigma. Every day, in every possible way, we need to stand up to stigma. If you’re not sure how, here are nine ways our Facebook community responded to the question: “How do you fight stigma?”

Talk Openly About Mental Health
“I fight stigma by talking about what it is like to have bipolar disorder and PTSD on Facebook. Even if this helps just one person, it is worth it for me.” – Angela Christie Roach Taylor

Educate Yourself And Others
“I take every opportunity to educate people and share my personal story and struggles with mental illness. It doesn't matter where I am, if I over-hear a conversation or a rude remark being made about mental illness, or anything regarding a similar subject, I always try to use that as a learning opportunity and gently intervene and kindly express how this makes me feel, and how we need to stop this because it only adds to the stigma.” – Sara Bean

Be Conscious Of Language
“I fight stigma by reminding people that their language matters. It is so easy to refrain from using mental health conditions as adjectives and in my experience, most people are willing to replace their usage of it with something else if I explain why their language is problematic.” – Helmi Henkin

Encourage Equality Between Physical And Mental Illness
“I find that when people understand the true facts of what a mental illness is, being a disease, they think twice about making comments. I also remind them that they wouldn't make fun of someone with diabetes, heart disease or cancer.” – Megan Dotson

Show Compassion For Those With Mental Illness
“I offer free hugs to people living outdoors, and sit right there and talk with them about their lives. I do this in public, and model compassion for others. Since so many of our homeless population are also struggling with mental illness, the simple act of showing affection can make their day but also remind passersby of something so easily forgotten: the humanity of those who are suffering.” – Rachel Wagner

Choose Empowerment Over Shame
“I fight stigma by choosing to live an empowered life. To me, that means owning my life and my story and refusing to allow others to dictate how I view myself or how I feel about myself.” – Val Fletcher

Be Honest About Treatment
“I fight stigma by saying that I see a therapist and a psychiatrist. Why can people say they have an appointment with their primary care doctor without fear of being judged, but this lack of fear does not apply when it comes to mental health professionals?” – Ysabel Garcia

Let The Media Know When They’re Being Stigmatizing
“If I watch a program on TV that has any negative comments, story lines or characters with a mental illness, I write to the broadcasting company and to the program itself. If Facebook has any stories where people make ignorant comments about mental health, then I write back and fill them in on my son’s journey with schizoaffective disorder.” – Kathy Smith

Don’t Harbor Self-Stigma
“I fight stigma by not having stigma for myself—not hiding from this world in shame, but being a productive member of society. I volunteer at church, have friends, and I’m a peer mentor and a mom. I take my treatment seriously. I'm purpose driven and want to show others they can live a meaningful life even while battling [mental illness].” – Jamie Brown

Supportive friends and family can play an important role in the mental health recovery process. Remember that a person cannot just “snap out of it.” 

Be willing to listen. 

  • DO allow your friend to talk about his or her mental health diagnosis.
  • DO NOT give advice or try to make it seem that their concerns are not real or are just a phase.
  • DO NOT share your friend's personal information, thoughts or feelings with others, unless your friend intends to hurt himself/herself or others, then call 911!

Don't give up if your friend pulls away.

  • People with mental health disorders sometimes withdraw from family and friends. Understand that this may happen because they are scared and that their brain is not working the way it used to. Therefore, it is important to keep trying to spend time with them by hanging out, studying or just talking. Doing this may help them realize that you are there for them and that you care.

Learn as much about mental health disorders and wellness as you can.

  • Knowledge is powerful and can help you to know what you might expect from your friend.         

Pay it forward!

  • Help bust stigma by educating friends and family about mental health disorders.

Your words matter! Everyone deserves to be treated with kindness, understanding, and respect, NOT with negative, judgmental, or hurtful words. Think about what you might say and how your friend might feel.

HELPFUL things to say...

  • It's not your fault.
  • It's the illness that causes these thoughts and feelings.
  • I may not be able to understand how you feel, but I care about you.
  • I am here for you. We will get through this together.
  • This must be really difficult for you.
  • I'm listening.
  • Use person first language: It is better to say… 
    “My friend has schizophrenia” 
    than to say, 
    “My friend is schizophrenic.”

HURTFUL things to say...

  • It's all in your head.
  • What's wrong with you?
  • Shouldn't you be better by now?
  • Just snap out of it!

Bottom line...

  • You want to reassure your friend of your support and understanding.


  • Know the facts.
  • Educate yourself about mental health problems.
  • Be aware of your attitudes and behavior.
  • We all have grown up with prejudices and judgmental thinking.
  • Choose your words carefully.
  • Educate others. [Wellness Connection Clubs]
  • Focus on the positive.
  • Support people.
  • Include everyone.

  • Abraham Lincoln • severe clinical depression
  • Adam Levine • ADHD
  • Alanis Morissette • clinical depression
  • Ally Sheedy • bulimia nervosa; substance abuse
  • Amanda Beard • bulimia, drug abuse, clinical depression, self-harm
  • Angelina Jolie • depression and self-harm
  • Anthony Hopkins • clinical depression
  • Anthony Bordain • addiction
  • Ashley Judd • depression, anxiety
  • Audrey Hepburn • clinical depression; eating disorders
  • Axl Rose • bipolar disorder
  • Ben Stiller • bipolar disorder
  • Bert Yancey • bipolar disorder
  • Billy Joel • alcohol and depression
  • Brian Wilson • bipolar disorder
  • Britney Spears • bipolar and post natal depression
  • Brooke Shields • postpartum depression
  • Bryce Dallas Howard •
  • Buzz Aldrin • clinical depression
  • Cara Delevingne • depression
  • Carrie Fisher • bipolar disorder, substance abuse
  • Cary Grant • clinical depression
  • Catherine zeta Jones • bipolar
  • Chamique Holdsclaw • depression, bipolar
  • Charley Pell • clinical depression
  • Cole Porter • clinical depression; alcoholism; paranoid delusions; ocd
  • Courtney Love • drub abuse, clinical depression
  • Craig Ferguson • alcoholic
  • Dame Kelly Holmes • depression and self harm
  • Damon Wayans • clinical depression
  • Darryl Strawberry • clinical depression
  • David Beckham • OCD
  • Demi Lovato • addiction, bulimia, cutting
  • Dick Clark • clinical depression
  • Dimitrius Underwood • bipolar disorder
  • DMX • bipolar
  • Dolly Parton • clinical depression
  • Drew Barrymore • clinical depression, alcoholism, substance abuse;
  • Drew Carey • clinical depression
  • Dwight Gooden • clinical depression
  • Earl Campbell • panic disorder
  • Elton John  • substance abuse and bulimia
  • Emma Thompson • clinical depression
  • Eric Clapton • clinical depression
  • Ernest Hemingway • clinical depression
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald • clinical depression
  • Francis Ford Coppola • bipolar disorder
  • George Michael • depression and fear
    George S. Patton • clinical depression; dyslexia
  • Georgia O’Keeffe • clinical depression
  • Halle Berry • suicide attempt
  • Halsey • bipolar
  • Harrison Ford • clinical depression
  • Heath Ledger • depression, anxiety
  • Herschel Walker • dissociative identity disorder
  • Howard Stern • obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • James Garner • clinical depression
  • James Taylor • clinical depression; bipolar disorder
  • Jane Fonda • bulimia nervosa
  • Jane Pauley • bipolar
  • Janet Jackson 8 clinical depression
  • Jared Padalecki • depression
  • Jean-Claude Van Damme • bipolar
  • Jessica Alba • OCD and eating disorder
  • Jessica Lange • clinical depression
  • Jim Carrey • clinical depression
  • Joan Rivers • clinical depression; bulimia nervosa
  • Jon Hamm • cronic depression
  • Jose Canseco • clinical depression
  • Judy Garland • clinical depression; substance abuse
  • Justin Bieber • depression
  • Kate Spade • depression, anxiety
  • Keisha Buchanan • depression
  • Keith O’Neil • heavy drinking, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, bipolar disorder
  • Kim Basinger • panic disorder
  • Kris Kristopherson • clinical depression; substance abuse
  • Kristy McNichol • bipolar disorder
  • Kurt Cobain • attention deficit disorder, bipolar depression
  • Lady Gaga • depression, anxiety
  • Larry King • clinical depression
  • Lena Dunham • anxiety
  • Leo Tolstoy • clinical depression; hypochondriasis; alcoholism; substance abuse
  • Linda Hamilton  bipolar disorder
  • Ludwig van Beethoven • bipolar disorder
  • Marie Osmond • clinical depression, post-partum
  • Marilyn Monroe • clinical depression/suicide
  • Mark Rothko clinical depression
  • Mel Gibson • bipolar
  • Michael Phelps  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Mike Tyson • depression and severe insecurities and anger
  • Mike Wallace • clinical depression
  • Natalie Cole • clinical depression
  • Neil Simon 8 clinical depression
  • Ozzy Osbourne • bipolar
  • Pablo Picasso • clinical depression
  • Patricia Cornwell • bipolar disorder, anorexia nervosa, anorexia bulimia;
  • Patty Duke • bipolar disorder
  • Paula Abdul • bullimia nervosa
  • Princess Diana • Bulimia nevosa, depression and multiple suicide attempts
  • Ray Charles • clinical depression
  • Rene Russo • bipolar
  • Richard Dreyfuss • clinical depression/bipolar
  • Richard Simmons • anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa;
  • Robin Williams • clinical depression, struggled with addiction
  • Sarah McLachlan • clinical depression
  • Sheryl Crow • clinical depression
  • Sigmund Freud • clinical depression
  • Sinead O’Connor • bipolar
  • Stephen Fry • bipolar depression
  • Ted Turner • bipolar disorder
  • Tracey Gold • anorexia nervosa, attention deficit disorder
  • Troian Bellisario • prescription pill addiction, eating disorder, self-harm
  • Winona Ryder • clinical depression; anxiety
  • Winston Churchill • bipolar disorder; dyslexia



Mind your mind

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Look me in the eye

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Stomp out stigma

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Friends take action

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After watching these videos, consider the following questions:

  • Does any speaker say something, which you feel is especially important to you personally?
  • How might misunderstanding something like mental health disorders contribute to stigma?
  • What could you do to stop the stigma of mental health disorders?