What’s Stigma?

“There should be no shame in discussing or seeking help for treatable illnesses that affect too many people we love. We’ve got to get rid of that embarrassment, we’ve got to get rid of that stigma. Too many Americans who struggle with mental health illnesses are still suffering in silence rather than seeking help,” stated President Barack Obama in his speech at a national conference on mental illness in June of this year.

Stigma is the “mark” resulting from the judgment by others; in this case, the judgment of those with a mental illness. That judgment is often rooted in a lack knowledge or training. The resulting shame or embarrassment from stigma is cited as a primary reason why many people do not seek help when they experience symptoms.

Mental illness is far more common than people realize. Consider these statistics:

  • An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.1
  • Mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and Canada. 2
  • Half of all lifetime cases of mental disorders begin by age 14.3
  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death in youth ages 15 to 24.4 Over 90 percent of children and adolescents who commit suicide have a mental disorder.5

Despite its prevalence in our society, mental health still has stigma attached to it.

That’s what we want to change. Sharing statistics, facts, information, resources…whatever it takes to help all understand that mental illnesses – from depression to anxiety to more serious and persistent diseases such as bipolar disorder – are treatable diseases.


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1., 3. National Institute of Mental Health http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml

2. The World Health Organization http://www.who.int/healthinfo/global_burden_disease/GBD_report_2004update_AnnexA.pdf

4 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention:  Goals and Objectives for Action.  Rockville, MD:  U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, 2001.

5. Shaffer, D., & Craft, L. “Methods of Adolescent Suicide Prevention.” Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 60 (Suppl. 2), 70-74, 1999.


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