Skip to main content

5 steps you can take to end mental health stigma

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which makes it a great time to address stigma.

I’m the friend and family member of people living with mental health and substance use disorders. As a recovery ally, I whole-heartedly support my loved ones in their efforts to improve their emotional well-being. So it’s important for me to talk openly and honestly about mental health issues, effective coping strategies and available treatment options.

I’ve seen firsthand how stigma can be a barrier to getting support. So I’ve made combatting stigma one of my missions.

Mental health in the United States

Mental health conditions are common. As many as 20 to 25% of people experience a mental health diagnosis each year. And almost half will be impacted at some point in their lifetime.

Unfortunately, more than half of those with a mental health diagnosis do not seek help. One reason often cited by those who do not seek treatment, or who may delay getting help, is stigma.

Stigma is those negative views, attitudes, and labels toward a person or group of people. And it has serious consequences. People with mental health challenges are often marginalized. Stigma can lead to further guilt, shame, isolation and worse. It can also prevent them from leading full and healthier lives.

So how can we address stigma? It all starts with talking openly about mental health issues.

Here’s how you can help reduce stigma in your own life

1. Speak up

It is important that we begin to share our experiences and “real-life” examples. This will help to demystify a topic that for too long has been taboo.

2. Educate

Share reliable information about these diagnoses to our networks so they have a better understanding of mental health matters. This could include your children, friends, family and coworkers.

3. Be there for your loved ones

Many people with mental health conditions don’t feel comfortable talking to loved ones about it. Listening and showing compassion for people impacted can be helpful.

4. Be mindful of stigmatizing language

Our words matter. We should stop using language that is stigmatizing. Calling someone names like crazy or looney can have damaging and lasting impacts. We should refrain from using any labels that equate illness with a person, such as calling someone schizophrenic or bipolar. Instead we should say “a person who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder” or “who has a diagnosis of schizophrenia.”

Here are more examples of language you can use.

5. Challenge the stigma you see

Lastly, we should directly challenge unfair, unhelpful, and unhealthy descriptions and/or depictions of mental health, no matter where they occur.


You know that feeling where your thoughts scare you or make life tough? Sometimes it feels like no one else in the world has those thoughts or feelings. No one seems to know how difficult it is to deal with your feelings, and it's not easy to share your deepest secrets.

You might think something is wrong with you. Or you might worry what other people think. And all of that makes your thoughts and feelings worse.

Our culture has created this environment of shame. Until the 1960s, society sent people away if they had challenges managing their thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Over time, we learned that we didn't have to be afraid. We learned how to help people get better. We became hopeful. But there are remnants of those images in our culture today. Which is why some people still feel uncomfortable talking about it.

The stigma has taken new forms, too. With more access to more people all the time, it can seem like the world is telling us it's not okay to be anything but perfect.

The truth is, everyone has thoughts or feelings that can be hard to deal with. So why do we make it so difficult on ourselves by judging others who could be going through the same challenges we are? What if instead of seeing labels, we saw people who are struggling and could be there for them so they didn't feel so alone? What if we looked past our fear of mental health and started to talk about it in a constructive way? What if, as a society, we used empowering words and healthy images to help people feel supported?

Maybe then more of us could feel comfortable telling others when we're having a hard time. Maybe more people would get the help they need. And maybe one day we won't have to talk separately about mental health and physical health, but just health. The truth is, each of us has the power to change our culture. Will you join us?

Share this video with a kid, your neighbor, a friend, and help us break the stigma of mental health.

All of these actions can help normalize conversations around mental health challenges. They can also highlight treatment, which will hopefully lead more people to feel comfortable seeking care.

At Blue Cross and Blue Shield of NC, our mission is to improve the health and well-being of all our customers and their communities. One way we can do this together is by helping to combat stigma and ensuring access to the help and quality care that we and our loved ones will benefit from.

Tedra Anderson Brown, MD

Tedra Anderson Brown, MD

Medical Director for Behavioral Health

Browse related articles

Navigating mental health care

For many of us, the natural place to begin looking for providers is to search online.

Putting mental health resources in reach

What it takes to make behavioral health care accessible.

Ending mental health stigma in the next generation

Attitudes toward mental health start early in life.