Stigma Prevents Many From Seeking Mental Health Assistance


The Problem

I frequently joke that in Los Angeles people think you have a problem if you don’t see a therapist. Joking aside, the stigma of having mental illness here is alive and thriving just like the rest of the world. Sadly, the stigma keeps many from letting their friends and family know they have some form of mental illness or that they are receiving treatment. A recent study shows an even more troubling problem – In Europe and the US, stigma is a key deterrent which prevents up to 75 percent of people with mental health disorders from receiving treatment. These include psychosis, bipolar disorder, major depression and anxiety disorders.

The Study

Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London examined data from 144 studies, which included over 90,000 participants worldwide.

Professor Graham Thornicroft, senior author of the paper, says, “We now have clear evidence that stigma has a toxic effect by preventing people seeking help for mental health problems. The profound reluctance to be ‘a mental health patient’ means people will put off seeing a doctor for months, years, or even at all, which in turn delays their recovery.” Thornicroft is from the Department of Health Service and Population Research at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College.

The main types of stigma preventing people from accessing care were ‘treatment stigma’ (the stigma associated with using mental health services or receiving mental health treatment) and ‘internalized stigma’ (shame, embarrassment). Other important barriers preventing people seeking help were fear of disclosing a mental health condition; concerns about confidentiality; wanting to handle the problem on one’s own; and not believing they needed help.

The study also identified certain groups for whom stigma had an even stronger effect on preventing people seeking help. These included young people, men, people from minority ethnic groups, those in the military and health professions.

Possible Solutions to End the Stigma

Dr Sarah Clement, also from the HSPR Department at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s and lead author of the paper, says: “Our study clearly demonstrates that mental health stigma plays an important role in preventing people from accessing treatment. We found that the fear of disclosing a mental health condition was a particularly common barrier. Supporting people to talk about their mental health problems, for example through anti-stigma campaigns, may mean they are more likely to seek help.”

I find it disheartening that in the 21st century that stigma still plays such a huge burden on so many people. Two excellent organizations, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) have had fighting stigma as part of their mission for decades. More recently, Glenn Close co-founded Bring Change 2 Mind whose primary mission is fighting the stigma associated with mental illness. Ms. Close has a sister with bipolar disorder and a nephew with schizophrenia.


Another site I recommend is by a friend and mental health advocate, Sarah Fader. Sarah’s blog, Old School/New School Mom has been running an outstanding series called Stigma-Fighters, which offers testimonials from many who are living with mental illness. Sarah had asked me to guest post and I was more than happy to oblige. She is currently raising funds to make Stigma-Fighters a non-profit organization to create Stigma Fighter chapters in colleges and universities across the country. The goal is to provide young people living with mental illness such as bipolar, PTSD, anxiety and depression a community that they can be a part of. You can learn more about Sarah’s goal as well as donate on Fund dreamer

If you are living with a mental disorder, or believe you may be, I strongly encourage you to seek the assistance of a doctor or mental health professional. You are under no obligation to tell friends and family you are receiving help. Although I am completely open about having bipolar disorder, I am part of a small minority. Most people I know do not share this information. There are a large number of blogs about mental health across the net and many of them are written under pseudonyms. Ending the stigma is of primary importance both in my personal life as well as here on my blog, which is read by many still in the mental health closet. I am not a health care professional, but if you would like to have someone to share your fears and frustrations, please feel free to reach me via the contact tab at the top of this blog. In fact, I urge you to do so.

Source: Kings College

5 comments on Stigma Prevents Many From Seeking Mental Health Assistance

  1. Stigma is a sad thing. My family and friend all know about my disorders. I don’t think I blog anonymously because of stigma. I do so because I don’t want my mom calling me every time I write about having a bad day – lol. Seriously, though, I don’t want people I know reading my blog because I use it as I would a journal at times. Plus, since I talk about difficulties in my childhood and current events in my life, I wouldn’t want to hurt or worry any of my family members or friends. I write for an audience of people with mental illnesses. If I thought friends and family were in that audience I wouldn’t be able to write the same way. Maybe some day I’ll feel different. But for now I don’t want to hurt anyone and I don’t want anyone hassling me. Does that make any sense?

    1. Total sense, Wil. There are times I wish I wrote anonymously for the reasons you give. I do concern friends and family sometimes with my posts.

      I didn’t mean to imply that everyone who blogs anonymously does so out of fear of stigma, but I do know many that do.

  2. I totally agree that the stigma associated with mental health is a huge barrier. I too make decisions, including blogging anonymously, based on the fact that I don’t want most of my family and friends to know what I am going through. I also declined my doctors suggestion to be an inpatient during my major drug overhaul because I just couldn’t bring myself to tell my kids I was going into a “mental institution”. He wanted to admit me in order to come off of my present meds and start new ones quickly and safely since the ones I’m on aren’t doing squat. Although he understood and respected my decision, it means the process will go a lot slower. Score another one for stigma.

    1. Michele, I’m sorry you have to be cautious regarding your mental health, but understand. I have a few friends who are as well. I hope in my lifetime we’ll see the stigma crumble to pieces and people will view mental illness the same as physical illness. I’m skeptical, yet optimistic. Big hugs, my friend.

  3. Afternoon Bradley, It’s madness that there still is a stigma with mental health. In fact I don’t seeing changing for some years still. Loved your post, hugs Paula xxxx

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