Spotting the Signs: Are You Unintentionally Propagating Mental Health Stigmas

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults in the United States deals with some form of mental illness in any given year; one in 25 suffers from a serious condition that significantly debilitates their lives. Among the youth, one in five experiences a serious mental disorder at some point; among children, the percentage is around 13%.
These numbers indicate that mental health is a topic that warrants effective discourse, from the sectors of society that are directly involved in helping shape it. This is why there is a marked improvement in the effort by both the government and private sectors in helping bring awareness and treatment to those who suffer from mental disorders.
As active members of society, however, we as individuals also have an important role to play in ensuring that we foster a community that promotes acceptance and effective assistance and support to friends, family members, and neighbors who may be suffering from a condition. And one of the best ways that we can make that happen is by ensuring that we do not propagate – even unintentionally – mental health stigmas.
Look out for these signs.

Believing the Stereotypes

The media has a lot to answer for, when it comes to the propagation of certain stereotypes about mental disorders. Two of the most widely used and believed, for instance, are the following:

  • People with mental disorders are violent
  • People with mental disorders are obviously odd

The first is one of the most dangerous stigmas that people with mental conditions have to go through. The notion that any psychological or psychiatric condition can lead to threats and physical abuse is damaging to the patient, as well as his or her family. It gets in the way of proper and effective conversations that may lead to successful coping and treatment. Additionally, it runs the risk of making the patient feel isolated, which can intensify the severity of his or her mental condition and contribute to more trauma.
The second is not as visceral as the first, but it is a trope that is popularly promoted by many television shows and movies. Someone who suffers from mental health should display weird behavior and look different, but these are not true. There are a lot of people who suffer from mental conditions who do not mumble to themselves, wear odd pieces of clothing, or do anything that radically sets them apart from other people. Patients who are stigmatized by this stereotype end up having their experience “othered” by society, like it cannot happen to someone who typically looks and acts normally, and invalidates the significance of the condition.
To want to make sure that you do not feed the stigmas that surround mental health by believing the stereotypes, sometimes the only thing we should do is look at people who suffer from mental problems as just like us: going through an issue, and in need of support and acceptance. Because the truth is, they are.

Giving Ineffective and Potentially Harmful Advice

It is not easy to live with people who are suffering from a mental condition, and it is not easy to listen to painful accounts of someone’s traumas. We want to make sure that we can help, and we do our best to be the right shoulder to cry on.
However, some of us tend to give advice that may end up being harmful. For instance, thinking that the person suffering from a mental condition will be better equipped to handle everything if they would only practice positive thinking is not ideal. What this communicates is: you are suffering because you keep indulging bad thoughts and actions; if you do not get it together, you will never be happy. This is not only shallow, it also promotes victim-blaming.
To make sure that you are not saying anything that can be a potentially harmful trigger, it is best to just listen to those who trust us enough to share with us things that are already difficult to talk about. If we want to provide helpful words of encouragement that hopefully cheer someone up, we can just let them know that they can call us or come to us anytime if they need help.

Looking at Mental Disorders From Your Own Point of View 

Lastly, we can all learn to stop looking at mental conditions from the lens of an outsider, and thinking that how we see it is how it is. If you do not understand how something that is fairly manageable to you can make someone else feel so wretched, you do not have to. Instead, what you can do is accept that what someone else is feeling and experiencing is valid, let them tell us about it, and provide assistance or support whenever we can. We cannot project our own coping mechanisms on others, and we cannot make it go away for them by insisting our own beliefs and opinions.
Even among people who are diagnosed with the same mental conditions, no two experience is exactly the same. There are people who suffer from the same form of anxiety disorder, who may have differing degrees of fear and panic from the same thing. Similarly, what may work for someone may not work for someone else; mental health cannot be diluted to a one-size-fits-all model.


Are you suffering from a mental condition? It is important to also be aware if you are self-stigmatizing yourself with unhealthy thinking and behavioral patterns. Look out for the following:

  • Thinking that you deserve your mental disorder. Mental disorders happen because of several reasons: some are biochemical, and some are psychosocial. Regardless of how it came about, the difficulties that any condition comes with are not the fault of the person that are living with them. You do not deserve to feel terrible, and the dark days are not worthy of your time.
  • Thinking that your mental disorder defines you. Another harmful thinking that mostly happens to people with mental conditions is identifying themselves with their condition. If you have depression, for example, you may be tempted to believe that you are not who you are if you are not depressed. That is not true. You are you, and the mental disorder is an issue that needs intervention. It does not define you, and it should never have to.

 M Pimentel
M is a happily married Filipino mother to three wonderful little daughters, ages: 8 years, 5 years, and 4 months old. Her daily life is a struggle between being the Executive Content Director for Project Female and deciding who gets to watch television next. She specializes in creating and editing content for female empowerment, parenting, beauty, health/nutrition, and lifestyle. As the daughter of two very hardworking people, she was brought up with strict traditional Asian values and yet embraces modern trends like Facebook, vegan cupcakes, and the occasional singing cat video.
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