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Brighter Days Ahead: Stigma Against Depression is Declining

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Stigma about mental illness has long been an issue. But the good news is that stigma about depression, one of the most common mental health conditions, is decreasing. An article recently published in JAMA Network Open compared differences in attitudes about mental illness from participants in 1996 to 2018 respondents. In 2018, people reported they were more likely to work, socialize, or make friends with those that have depression. Respondents were also more likely to marry into families where depression is present then responders were in 1996.

Understanding Stigma: The Big Picture

Reducing stigma is important because it is commonly listed as a barrier to seeking and receiving mental health care. People often report delaying treatment for years because they are concerned about it. This fear is easy to understand due to the stereotypes that still exist about mental illness. Clients often tell us about the stereotypes they have been faced with such as “people with depression are weak.” At times, stigma takes the form of prejudice (“I’m afraid of somebody because they have bipolar disorder”), and even discrimination (“we can’t hire somebody with panic attacks”).

Breaking Down Stigma

It can be helpful to understand different types of stigma because it makes it easier to recognize and to work to overcome it as a barrier to getting treatment.

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), there are 3 significant types of stigma about mental health: public stigma (sometimes called social stigma), self stigma, and institutional stigma.

Public stigma is the negative belief, emotion, or behavior exhibited by others against those with mental health issues. Examples of public stigma include “people with mental health issues are dangerous” and “I can’t trust them.”

People with mental health issues may feel shame or blame themselves for their mental illness. They may believe they are inadequate or can’t be trusted. These are forms of self stigma. This type of stigma happens when a person starts to believe that public stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination are true about themself.

Institutional stigma involves “policies of government and private organizations that intentionally or unintentionally limit opportunities for people with mental illness” (APA, n.d.). Examples of this type of stigma include denying a promotion or not hiring somebody because they are diagnosed with a mental illness.

Resources to Reduce Mental Health Stigma

Any decrease in stigma about mental illness is positive and represents progress. We can still do more to help reduce stigma, especially for those conditions where stigma remains highest (schizophrenia and alcohol use disorders). If you need help with mental health issues, don’t let public, self, or institutional stigma stop you from getting the care you need. Contact us to get counseling and please visit one of these resources to learn more about what you can do to reduce stigma:

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