Avoiding Mental Health Stigma by Heather Lewis

POSTED BY on June 19, 2022

We know kids don’t come with instruction manuals. We also know they learn very quickly and most of what they learn when they’re small comes from parents or caregivers.  Everyone has heard stories of babies repeating the swear word or “adult” comment the mom or dad had said.  That’s why it’s so important for us as parents to be mindful of the words we choose, because our kids are listening and they’re learning.

Stigma is what happens when society places judgment on certain attributes of others related to cultures, race, illness or disease which usually causes the stigmatized individuals to feel different or devalued.  Stigma can be found in the structural make-up of our government, in business and schools, and in us as individuals. It creates deeper division and supports falsehoods about people based on their skin color, physical capabilities, or mental health diagnoses.  It perpetuates hate.  Stigma is the false belief about the person or group, and discrimination is the behavior that follows.

In Utah, 49.3% of youth age 12-17 did NOT receive any care in the last year due to factors which include stigma. 

More than 50% of U.S. adults will need mental health treatment at some point in their lifetime. According to combined data from the 2009 to 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 1.5 million young adults felt they needed mental health treatment.  With so many Americans suffering, it seems natural that there is support and acceptance in seeking help.  Yet of those young adults, 545,000 said they didn’t seek treatment because they believed they would be discriminated against.

Stigma can contribute to worsening symptoms like increased depression or anxiety, and shame and embarrassment can cause reluctance to ask for help or seek treatment options.  Less treatment and wellness means less opportunities for employment and positive social interaction, perpetuating the symptoms, creating a vicious downward cycle.

Usually we go through our lives without giving much thought to the stigma idea.  Have you ever wondered if you are engaging in stigmatizing thinking patterns or behavior?   Awareness is the key if we are to tip the scales in favor of acceptance, because we can’t change what we don’t even know.  To better understand your own internal thought patterns,  click here for a self-assessment quiz. 


What do we do now that we know about this serious problem in our country that keeps our loved ones from getting the help and treatment services they need?  A recent national survey was conducted of 14-22 year old’s seeking mental health resources.  When looking online, 3 of 4 kids viewed personal blogs and posts from people who suffered in the past.  There is connection and unity when we are honest and share ourselves with others.  It shows up as strength and courage when someone with lived experience opens up about their personal journey and it lends freedom to others to do the same.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) shared these nine tips to reduce stigma.

  • Talk openly about mental health.
  • Educate yourself and others.
  • Be conscious of language.
  • Encourage equality between physical and mental illness.
  • Show compassion for those with mental illness.
  • Choose empowerment over shame.
  • Be honest about treatment.
  • Let others know when they’re being stigmatizing.
  • Don’t harbor self-stigma.

For more information, and to learn about how you can help eradicate stigma, please visit NAMI.  Together we can end the negative bias associated with mental health.  In Utah, 49.3% of youth age 12-17 did NOT receive any care in the last year due to factors which include stigma. 

Depression and suicide are disproportionately high in Utah youth, especially in underserved populations and we must create change for the kids, for our loves ones, and for future generations. 

Take the pledge today to change the way the world sees mental health. 


Submitted for UPLIFT FAMILIES by Heather Lewis, Utah County Health Department, Substance Use Prevention Division

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