Why the Stigma Surrounding Mental Health Matters  

Blues Perspectives

| 3 min read

Wife comforting her husband
If you have five close friends, one of them is likely to experience a mental health disorder this year. Would that friend feel comfortable talking to you if they needed help? Would a family member? Your attitude toward mental health makes a difference. Collectively, the conversations and messages we share shape perceptions about mental health – at home, at work, within religious and cultural organizations, with friends and online. They can either add to existing stigma surrounding it or work to dismantle it.

What is stigma?

Stigma is the pervasive negative perception of people with mental health conditions. The American Psychiatric Association identifies 3 different types of stigma:
  • Public stigma – the negative attitudes others have concerning mental health disorders.
  • Self-stigma – the negative attitude one has about their own mental health, which can show up as internalized shame.
  • Institutional stigma – includes government or organizational policies that limit opportunities for those with mental health conditions, either intentionally or unintentionally.

Why does stigma matter?

When people feel ashamed of their mental health status or repeatedly hear messages that they should feel shame, it’s less likely they’ll seek the care they need. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, embarrassment is one of the many barriers that stop people from seeking treatment. In fact, only about 20% of adults with a mental health condition actually seek treatment. Mental health disorders typically don’t resolve on their own. Effective treatment can help people manage their condition before it gets worse. Untreated mental health conditions can eventually lead to physical symptoms such as aches and pains or gastrointestinal distress. People with depression face a 40% higher risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases and unmanaged mental health conditions also make it harder to managing existing chronic health conditions.

What can you do to stop stigma?

There are many ways we can all contribute to lessening the stigma surrounding mental health disorders.
  • Talk about it. Being open and honest about your own mental health can help others feel comfortable opening up about what they might be going through.
  • Be careful with your words. Using real mental health conditions as adjectives sends a message that those diagnoses aren’t taken seriously and aren’t worthy of seeking treatment for.
  • Educate yourself. Learn more about mental health conditions and available treatments so you can be better prepared to help friends and family by recognizing symptoms of mental health conditions.
There is no shame in seeking help for a mental health diagnosis. In fact, seeking treatment is a commitment to yourself and for everyone you love. --- Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network can help members find an in-network mental health professional by calling behavioral health access lines listed below: PPO: Behavioral Health Access Line | 1-800-762-2382
  • A free and confidential resource that’s just a call away when you need immediate support. Behavioral health professionals answer, 24/7.
HMO: Behavioral Health Access Line | 1-800-482-5982
  • Connect with a behavioral health clinician if you need help finding a mental health or substance use provider.
  • Behavioral health clinicians are available for routine assistance from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. For urgent concerns after hours, clinicians are also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Crisis Assistance:
  • If you feel that your condition is an emergency that’s not life-threatening, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for support at 1-800-273-8255.
  • If your situation requires immediate emergency help to prevent death or serious harm to yourself or others, please seek help at the nearest emergency room or call 911.
Learn more about mental health and options you have as a member to seek help at bcbsm.com/mentalhealth. Related:
Photo credit: Getty Images 
MI Blues Perspectives is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association