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Why mental health stigma matters

Support begins where stigma ends

Mental illnesses are treatable health conditions, but for a long time society has falsely viewed them as a sign of personal weakness, moral failure, lack of willpower or attention-seeking behavior. This misunderstanding creates stigma, which leads to feelings of isolation, shame and silence for those living with a mental illness. As a result, stigma keeps people from seeking support or getting the care they need and deserve.

Fortunately, by learning more about stigma and its harmful effects, we can increase understanding and help us all show up in a more informed, caring and supportive way for those living with a mental health condition. We all have a role to play, and we can start today.

Stigma can lead to

  • Avoiding getting care
  • Being perceived as dangerous or violent
  • Discrimination
  • Employment and housing barriers
  • Isolation
  • Shame
  • Suicide

Stopping stigma helps create

  • Academic success
  • Empowerment for people to seek care
  • Improved health — both mentally and physically
  • More caring communities
  • More individual care and support
  • More stable housing and employment

What you can do

  • Offer help and support
  • Recognize mental illnesses as treatable health conditions
  • See the person, not just their condition
  • Stop stigma and misconceptions with facts when you see or hear them
  • Use respectful language when talking about mental health and illnesses

Myths about mental illnesses

People’s knowledge about and understanding of mental illnesses is often limited, leading to false beliefs and misconceptions.

The stigma: Mental illnesses are related to…

  • Lack of willpower.
  • Character flaws.
  • Weakness.
  • Moral failure.
  • Attention seeking.
  • Exaggeration.

The reality: Mental illnesses can be related to multiple factors like…

  • Genetics. Most mental illnesses have a contribution from the genes we inherit, and some — like ADHD, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder — are primarily caused by our genetics.
  • Brain physiology. Specific pathways in the brain are altered in illnesses like depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and substance use disorders.
  • Environment. Factors such as unmet nutrition and transportation needs, unstable housing and living conditions and unhealthy relationships can all play a role in developing a mental illness and making it harder to treat.
  • Trauma. Traumatic brain injury and traumatic life events can play a role in triggering a mental illness.

The stigma of medication

As with any other medical illness, taking medication for a mental illness is OK and not a sign of failure. Some mental illnesses require medication for treatment and best quality of life in the same way a physical health condition like high blood pressure or diabetes may require medication.

Mental illnesses disproportionately impact vulnerable communities and people of color

As Make It OK works to reduce stigma, it’s important to recognize that some people in our communities face additional barriers to mental health care. In the Make It OK IMPACT survey results, respondents who are people of color indicated they were more reluctant to seek care for their mental health.

Mental health stigma in communities of color can stem from historical traumas and mistrust in health care and systems. Additional barriers that may affect seeking care include finances, access to care or lack of providers who understand their unique cultural beliefs, values, language and more. By raising awareness, promoting cultural understanding, talking more openly and improving equitable access to mental health information, resources, and services, we can work toward ending stigma and supporting mental health and well-being for people of color and all communities.

Learn more

How to help reduce stigma


Learn about mental health and illnesses, the impact of stigma and how to combat myths with facts and resources.


Learn more


Discover how to talk in an open, compassionate and informed way about mental health and illnesses.


What to say


Spread Make It OK’s message of hope in your community so we can end the stigma and support people in getting the mental health support and care they deserve.


Take action

Learn about common mental health conditions

The more we understand about mental health conditions, the less stigma there will be surrounding them.

Learn about mental health conditions