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Healthy Minds Healthy College

What is mental health stigma?

October 23, 2014

It’s not weird, strange, odd or unusual to have a mental health issue. One in five of us will experience having a mental health issue at some point in our lives.

What is weird, strange, odd and unusual is that we make people feel bad for something they can’t control. This is called stigma.

Stigma, like you heard about in the video above, occurs from a place of fear. Stigma spreads misinformation, labels individuals and perpetuates stereotypes. It also leaves people with mental health issues feeling isolated and alone and can prevent others from reaching out for the help they need.

We can all play a role in breaking down stigma by educating ourselves about mental health and mental illness. Here are just two things we can be mindful of on a daily basis to help reverse negative mental health stereotypes and stigma.

  • People are not their illnessesSaying that someone is a schizophrenic or bulimic is insensitive and disrespectful because it reduces the person down to their illness. It’s important that we recognize that people are not their illness, rather they live with their illness. Many people with mental illness are already trying to understand their identity — they don’t need us to make it worse by labelling them.
  • Stigmatizing languageOften we will use words to explain one thing when really, we mean something else. For example, we might say traffic was ‘crazy’ as opposed to traffic ‘chaotic’. We might do this with the best intentions and without even noticing it, but the words we choose can have an impact on individuals with mental health issues and perpetuate stigma. So next time you catch yourself saying something was ‘crazy’ or that person is ‘so OCD’, see if there’s a better, more accurate way to describe the situation.

For more insight into how we can work together to break down stigma, visit