Mental Health Stigma: Myths and Facts

On October 10, 2021


The first week of October is designated Mental Illness Awareness Week and October 10th marks World Mental Health Day!  This gives us a great opportunity to challenge the existing stigma surrounding mental illness.  Unlike many other medical conditions, in many families and communities mental illness remains shrouded in secrecy, minimized or ignored.

The stigma around mental illness can present in many ways.  Common examples include: negative stereotypes, fear of people with mental illness and discrimination in hiring or housing practices.  Stepping up to combat the stigma around mental illness sometimes seems overwhelming.  But, one simple way we can help is by educating ourselves about mental illness and then using our knowledge to educate others.  

Here are a few myths that you may have heard about mental illness and the facts you can use to bust them!

Myth —Mental Illness is uncommon or doesn’t happen to “people like us”.

Fact — 1 in 5 adults in the United States will experience mental illness in their lifetime.  It affects people of all ages, ethnicities, educational backgrounds, income levels and personality types.


Myth —  People with mental illness just need to “try harder” or “think differently” to get better.  

Fact — We still don’t understand all the contributing factors that lead to mental illnesses.  But, we do know that it involves a complex interplay of genetics and environment.  We know that mental illness is never effectively treated by “just getting over it” or “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps”.  Each person’s journey towards health is different, but therapy and medications are generally the mainstays of effective treatment.


Myth — People with mental illness are dangerous.

Fact — Most people with mental illness are not, nor will ever be violent in their lifetime.  In fact, people with mental illness are ten times more likely to be the victims of violent crimes than the aggressors.


Myth — Stigma about mental illness is too entrenched and too widespread for just one person to make a positive difference.

Fact — There are so many ways you can help end stigma!  Speaking up when you see negative stereotypes portrayed, pointing out different types of discrimination or offering a non-judgmental ear when someone you know opens up to you about their psychological struggles are simple actions that can make a big difference.  Small changes at the individual level over time can cause major shifts in societal beliefs.  In fact, studies show that the general population today is more supportive of people with mental illness than it was a decade ago.  This is likely due, in part, to the efforts of individuals and small groups to educate the public.  So, the task to reduce the stigma about mental health remains daunting, but we’ve already made progress.  Let’s keep going!


Interested in more ways get involved in making the world a more knowledgeable, inclusive and supportive place for people living with mental illness?  Here are a few organizations to check out! 


National Alliance on Mental Illness – Stigma Free Campaign 

Families for Depression Awareness

No Stigmas

Mental Health Literacy


– Dr. Rebecca Durkin

About The Author

Dr. Rebecca Durkin
Dr. Rebecca Durkin is a Board Certified General Psychiatrist who specializes in Psychopharmacology (and loves the outdoors).

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