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Mental Health Problems and Stigma - Overview

If you have a mental health problem, you may worry about what other people will think of you. In many cases, no one can even tell if you are struggling with symptoms. But sometimes the fear that someone can tell is enough to cause concern. Mental health problems can include bipolar disorder, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and schizophrenia.

You have a say in how others see you. The way you act and treat others can help influence people's attitudes toward you and toward mental health problems.

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Stigma

People sometimes have negative views about things they don't understand, such as mental health problems. Some people may believe things about mental health problems that aren't true. Other people may have good intentions but still feel uncomfortable when they find out you have a mental health problem. This can make people treat you and your family differently. This is called stigma—when you feel judged by others because you have a personal quality, trait, or condition. Because of stigma, others may look down on you.

Stigma occurs when others:

  • Don't understand the mental health problem or think it's a laughing matter.
  • Don't realize that a mental health problem is an illness that can be treated.
  • Think that a mental health problem is "your own fault" or that you can "get over it."
  • Are afraid they might someday have a mental health problem themselves.
  • Are nervous around you.

You may feel shame or guilt about having a mental health problem. You may not want an employer or even your friends to know. This is called "self-stigma," and it can keep you from getting treatment or finding work.

Breaking the stigma

Respecting yourself is an important part of your recovery. Try to remember that there's nothing to feel ashamed of. The problem is with your brain, not with you. You can reach goals that are important to you even if you have a mental health problem.

Your attitude and actions can influence what others think. Be honest with people, and show them who you really are. When you help people understand your mental health problem, they are more likely to get past their negative views.

Here are some ways you can help others better understand mental health problems.

  • Let them know that your mental health problem is a medical problem that can be treated.
  • Talk about your recovery. This will help them understand the challenges you face.
  • Show them your strengths and talents. Don't let your mental health problem keep you from going after things you want to do.
  • Remember that "you are the message." You can show how you want to be treated by the way you act. Treating yourself with respect can set an example for everyone.
  • Accept that you may need breaks during activities. Your symptoms may make it harder to focus on things for a long time.
  • Work with your family and doctor to set goals you can reach. Let them know what changes you want to make in your life.
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