Are We Making Progress Combatting Mental Health Stigma?

Are We Making Progress Combatting Mental Health Stigma?

When you’re up against something and constantly pushing back against it, it’s inevitable to start to wonder if the efforts are achieving anything. For instance, are we making progress combatting mental health stigma? There are campaigns upon campaigns, advocates upon advocates, so many voices and messages joining and leading the conversations about mental wellness and mental illness alike year after year. Surely, we must be making some progress against mental health stigma, right?

Yes, We Are Making Progress Combatting Mental Health Stigma…

One of the ways I explore new things to talk about regarding mental health and the accompanying stigma is by searching mental health and related terms on social media and in news searches. I read through conversations and articles to see what’s going on in people’s minds when it comes to these topics and to see how we’re engaging in these conversations. To me, it’s a useful way to gain perspective.

What I’ve noticed is there are some positives with these searches. I get this sense that stigma feels like a large negative that follows mental health where it goes. As if every other social post or conversation to be had should be laced with stigma. But they’re not. There are many positive conversations and so much honesty about mental health struggles, in particular on social media.

Indeed, social media is where I first found my voice with my mental health struggles beyond the pages of my journal (« Journaling for Mental Health Improvement« ). It brought forth community and acceptance, and even a language to discuss what I was going through, and I’m seeing that same thing unfold for others today. My hope for those people is that this atmosphere extends into their offline lives as well, as it has for me.

News stories are also often positive and share about advocacy work or about expanding how we address mental health struggles to make resources and help more accessible for all people.

So yes, in some ways, we are making progress combatting mental health stigma as I know at one point these conversations would not have been possible.

…But There’s Still Plenty of Work to Be Done

Despite the positives and the progress that’s been made, there’s definitely still work to be done to fight stigma. Within my searches, I still see mental illnesses used as insults, people saying those with differing opinions need « mental health help, » and, of course, there’s also offline mental health stigma to contend with.

On top of that, there’s the need to look beyond the mental health stigma we’re used to. What I mean is, although people are more comfortable with talking about depression and anxiety, there are other mental illnesses and mental health struggles that are heavily stigmatized and misunderstood, such as schizophrenia, eating disorders, OCD, bipolar disorder… The list, unfortunately, goes on.

Examining and combatting stigma that men face for struggling with mental health should also be on our radar, as should be how mental health stigma manifests across cultures and societal situations. Despite the conversations that are alive around us, there are still many people that suffer in silence and shame because of their mental health struggles and mental illnesses.

Despite Progress, We Must Continue to Combat Mental Health Stigma

The above reasons are only some of what we can highlight to demonstrate the need to continue to fight stigma despite the progress we’ve made so far. We should absolutely celebrate the progress we’ve made against mental health stigma, but we can’t let it overshadow the other stigma that still exists.

So yes, celebrate that we’re making progress combatting mental health stigma. Celebrate it with all the joy and gusto it deserves, and then use that to fuel the continued efforts.

Author: Laura A. Barton

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