Understanding the impact of mental health stigma

The stigma around mental health is real. Despite more than 41 million adults across the US receiving therapy for their mental health treatment, having a mental health condition and seeing a therapist are both reasons for discrimination.

Shockingly, 47% of Americans believe that seeking therapy is a sign of weakness. The truth is actually the opposite. It takes a considerable amount of courage and strength to ask for help when you’re at your most vulnerable. You know your patients aren’t weak and shouldn’t be discriminated against. But that doesn’t stop them from feeling inferior and isolated.

The effect stigma and discrimination have

The impact stigma and discrimination have on people with a mental illness is huge. It doesn’t matter whether someone has been diagnosed with anxiety or ADHD, many experience shame and inequity that they simply don’t deserve. Here are just some of the ways they’re affected:


Many studies have shown that people with mental illness are considered dangerous. People with schizophrenia are perceived as dangerous and unpredictable, while people with drug or alcohol addictions are seen as both dangerous and to blame for their condition. It’s generally believed that people with any kind of mental illness are unreliable, especially when it comes to looking after children. 

All these incorrect and stereotypical personality traits make it more difficult for people with a mental illness to bond with others, make friends, and maintain relationships. This can leave them feeling isolated and alone.

Less likely to seek professional help

An international study that included more than 90,000 people discovered that concerns over the stigma of mental illness are one of the top reasons why people don’t seek therapy or an alternative form of care. This means there are thousands of people across the US suffering from mental health problems because they’re worried about being treated differently.

Mental health issues rarely go away on their own. A mild form of anxiety could easily develop into a more serious, life-changing form of anxiety. Without any help, the person may even consider taking their own life. 

Difficulties finding and holding down a job

Many people believe that having a mental illness makes it more difficult for someone to make decisions. It’s also believed that people with a mental condition are less intelligent than those who don’t. Both of these statements are false, but they continue to make it more difficult for people with mental illness to get a good job and keep it.

One study revealed that almost 12% of people who had a problem but never sought therapy made the decision to do so because they were worried about the impact it would have on their job. They were worried they’d be discriminated against and fired for something that affects millions of people across the US each year.


Children and teenagers with mental illness are very susceptible to bullying at school and at work. Young people in the 16-19-year range have the most negative attitudes towards those with mental illness. This is particularly true when it comes to drug and alcohol addiction. 

Although a considerable percentage of people aged 16-19 drink alcohol and/or use drugs, they differentiate themselves from people who become addicted or suffer from a mental illness. This information reflects a “them” and “us” way of thinking, which opens up other young people with mental health disorders to bullying, physical violence, and verbal harassment. 


Self-stigma is one of the worst consequences of being discriminated against by others. Public stigma is the discriminatory and negative attitudes others have about mental illness. Self-stigma involves the negative attitudes and internalized shame that people with mental illness have about their own disorder.

People experiencing self-stigma are more likely to self-sabotage by stopping taking their medication because they believe it won’t work. They may also cut off relationships because they expect them to fail. Some types of self-stigma can even be life-threatening and result in suicide ideation.

You can help

The above information may have left a bad taste in your mouth. But there is something you can do about it. It’s important to be supportive and understanding of your patients. It’s likely they all experience stigma and discrimination on some level. To truly help them, you need to let them know that it’s perfectly healthy to seek therapy and for many people, talking to a therapist is the best option to help them get better.

Encourage people in your social circle to challenge the stigma which surrounds mental health. Some people don’t even realize when they’re discriminating against people with mental health problems. But using certain phrases and holding stereotypical views can all contribute to people not getting the help they need and deserve.

Part 2 of 3

This is part two of a three-part series. Part one answers the question “Why is there a stigma around mental health?” Check back for part three when we’ll discuss how to help your patients overcome the stigma around mental health.

About the author: Sonya Parrott

Sonya is a Marriage and Family Therapist with over 13 years of experience in the mental health field. Her background includes working with Families, Adults, teens, and children in individual, family, couple, and group settings. She has extensive experience and training in the areas of Anxiety, Depression, Substance Use, Post Traumatic Stress, Family conflict, and Codependency.

Read more about Sonya here >>

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. If you are in a crisis or any other person may be in danger,  these resources can provide you with immediate help:
Suicide and Crisis Lifeline 988
24 Hour Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1.800.273.8255
Crisis Text Line Text TALK to 741741