Mental Health Stigma Is Keeping People From Getting Help

by Mia Mercado

Our cultural conversations about mental health have an impact on people beyond the way we talk or, more often, don’t talk about mental illness. As shown in a new survey, stigmatization has very real and unfortunately common consequences, as mental health stigma often prevents people from seeking help. Despite how common it is and how many people experience it, mental illness still goes widely unaddressed in part because people don’t feel comfortable talking about it.

In a recent survey from One Medical and Ipsos, almost one third of Americans say they are embarrassed to talk about mental health, even to medical professionals. One more time for the people in the back: mental health stigma keeps at least 29 percent of people from taking to their doctors about mental health. However, 54 percent of people surveyed said they want to talk to a professional regarding their mental health. This means the people who want to seek help are often also the ones too embarrassed to do so.

Cost and accessibility are already huge hurdles when it comes to people’s ability to receive the mental health care they need. Mental health conditions like depression and anxiety as well as conditions that affect mental health, like addiction, could all be pre-existing conditions that could impact people’s access to health care. It’s hard enough for people to get good health care; shame should not be a factor that also prevents people from getting the help they need.

Mental Health Issues Are More Common Than Many Might Realize

An initial way to help fight mental health stigma, and in turn encourage people to get the help they need, is through information. We need to understand the scope of the issue before we work to solve it. In the survey from One Medical, 69 percent of people say “at least one mental health issue affects their well-being,” which includes conditions like stress, anxiety, and depression.

Previous studies on the prevalence of mental illness further show how common it can be. The National Alliance on Mental Illness says nearly one in five Americans experience mental illness each year. Another study published earlier this year found that more than 80 percent of people will experience at least one episode of mental illness in their lifetime.

However, Americans Are Still Widely Uneducated About Mental Health

Despite how common it is, most Americans don’t understand mental health fully. This is in part due to the aforementioned lack of information. A recent study from Michigan State University found that few people can identify mental illness and that even fewer understand its treatment. 80 percent of the study’s participants didn't prescription drug use it was a treatable issue. Less than 50 percent were able to recognize the signs of anxiety, and the majority of participants didn’t know how depression is treated.

Stigma is just one facet of why we are unable to identify and understand mental illness. The Michigan State study also found things where you live, how much money you make, and how old you are can also play a part in recognizing mental health conditions in others. For example, coming from a higher-income background or living in an urban area were linked to the study’s respondents being less likely to recognize depression.

How Do We Break the Stigma?

While things like age and how much money we make are beyond our immediate control, there are plenty of things we can do to change the way we think about mental health. Staying informed is one of the best ways to fight mental health stigma. The more we know about mental illness, the better informed our conversations about it will be. Things like knowing which words to use when talking about mental health and which ones to avoid in addition to treating mental illness like you would physical illness help create a healthier cultural conversation.

Stigma stems from lack of information and is fed by lack of conversation. Like most things fueled by ignorance, starting by simply making an effort to know more about mental health conditions will start to help break the stigma. Words matter, and the way we talk about mental health has real consequences from how we think about everyone, ourselves included. If we want to work to be a culture that prioritizes mental health, we should be doing everything we can to make sure people are getting the help they need. That starts with breaking the stigma