Stamp out Stigma in mental health

Why stamp out stigma in mental health?

Charter Stigma logo in green and black on white. Words saying stop stigma.

We must stamp out stigma in mental illness because children and young people are not receiving the treatment and support they need. Studies say 10% of children and young people (age 5-16) experience a diagnosable mental illness, yet 70% of children and adolescents have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age. Children’s Society, 2008.

Are you sufficiently shocked? Enough to help stamp out the stigma associated with mental illness? I’m a fierce advocate for mental illness and determined to stamp out stigma. We need to reduce those statistics and one of the best ways is by stamping out stigma.

“..balancing time you spend with or without people is crucial for mental health.” Amy E. Spiegel.

Give someone a call, let them you you care, especially while we’re having to isolate.


Stigma and mental health

Dictionary definition of stigma: a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. “The stigma of being admitted to admitted to a mental health ward will always be with me”

There’s still stigma against people with mental illness, which is a major barrier to people — particularly to young people — seeking support for mental health problems. 

Quote "What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candour, more unashamed conversation" - Glen Close
What mental health needs — Image by

Stigma also leads to discrimination, which compounds the disadvantage experienced by people already wrestling with mental illness. It results in lower self-referral, less reporting of illness and less use of support services. As a result, people with mental illness are denied opportunities to equal quality of life: safe home, good job, physical and mental health care, leisure and social interactions with diverse groups of people.

Stigma is everywhere

I’m not sure about where you live, but I know that stigma remains rife in the UK. Fear and ignorance of mental illness exists in our communities, in the workplace, in schools and colleges and even in some healthcare settings.

The stigma attached to mental illness is noticeable in lots of ways. It can be seen in the language often used relating to mental illness:

Quote - Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shames us all - Bill Clinton on picture of long winding road
Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of
  1. People, more often young people, still use terminology that’s dismissive, hurtful, offensive or just downright rude! Obviously this can be really distressing – especially if it comes from a loved one, a family member or friend, colleagues or even healthcare workers.
  2. We’ve all heard the negative words used “he’s mad”, “you’re nuts”, “you should be in the loony bin” or “I’m a bit bipolar today”. I even heard one mother say of her son when he was formally admitted to an acute in-patient ward, “my son ain’t no window licker, he don’t belong in here with them nutters.”
  3. One study in 2007 quoted “teenagers came up with 250 words and terms used to stigmatise people with mental illness.”
  4. People really need to be more mindful when discussing someone who has a mental illness i.e. “People with mental illness” are not “the mentally ill”, and “Jamie isn’t schizophrenic”, “Jamie has schizophrenia” and “Hannah isn’t bipolar”, “Hannah has bipolar disorder”. Imagine for a second, “Mary is cancer”. No? We’d say “Mary has cancer”.

Reducing the stigma

Finger pointing at Stigma Circle, stereotypes and labelling, discrimination and low social status

People’s negative and often cruel word choices can contribute to the social stigma that might further marginalize individuals of all socioeconomic backgrounds living with mental illnesses. Changing the derogatory words people use to describe mental illness can go a long way to reducing the stigma.

We must break down the damaging misconceptions and stereotypes around mental illness that create strong barriers to people seeking help. By eliminating barriers to care, educating people about the benefit of help-seeking behavior and promoting recovery and resiliency, we will Stamp Out Stigma.

Little man standing beside a large red question mark.

Will you join me in stamping out stigma? Will you think about the way you, your family (including children), or friends address mental illness and the people who experience it? Would you correct someone else’s misconceptions about mental illness or challenge any discriminatory words they use? I look forward to your comments, any suggestions or questions.

You might want to read a related post “Why we need to shout about mental illness” here or “10 Myths and facts about mental illness” here.

Why we need to shout about Mental illness

Why we need to shout about Mental Illness

Drawing of brain with comments surrounding it
Common mental health disorders
Image from

Mental illness affects 1 in 4 people in the UK and 1 in 6 report experiencing a common mental health disorder (CMD) in any given week. CMD’s includes different types of depression and anxiety, panic disorder, phobias, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Mental illnesses impact on our physical health and our ability to participate in health-promoting behaviors. People with mental illness are known to have more difficulty in seeking out the physical healthcare they need and are entitled to, and subsequently miss out on routine checks like high cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and weight.

Because mental health is still a taboo topic, many people are going undiagnosed and not getting the treatment they need, which has and continues to lead to suicide. With ever-increasing worldwide suicide, we need to find more and different ways to get everyone involved in raising awareness of mental illness and its impact.

The impact of mental illness in the UK alone

The following figures 1-5 were extracted from Mental Health First Aid England’s 2018 Statistics, and are quite telling. If facts and figures don’t appeal to you, I won’t be offended, just scroll down.

Mental illness – Image by
  1. Mental illness is the second-largest cause of disability in the UK and Mental illnesses are more common, long-lasting and impactful than other health conditions (1)
  2. People with a long-term mental health condition lose their jobs every year at around double the rate of those without a mental health condition. This equates to 300,000 people – the equivalent of the population of Newcastle or Belfast (2)
  3. 75% of mental illness (excluding dementia) starts before age 18 (3,4)
  4. Men aged 40-49 have the highest suicide rates in the UK (5)
  5. 70-75% of people with diagnosable mental illness receive no treatment at all (3,6,7)

Together we can raise awareness of mental illness

girl crying mascara running down face black and white photo
Raise awareness of mental illness
– Image by Pixabay

The figures are of course alarming, and it’s clear that we’ve all still got more work to do in terms of raising awareness of this massive global problem — the signs and symptoms, together with the stigma.

It’s also apparent that, more often than not we, the people who actually experience mental illness, are expected to take the lead on speaking out about mental health and promoting awareness. So, what else can we do?

How can we raise awareness

Of course, we have the annual World Mental Health Day, hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, which will take place this year from 18th -24th May. This year’s theme is ‘sleep’. The week will focus on the connections between our sleep – or lack of it – and mental health.

When I worked in the Mental Health Day Hospital, I used to love the run up to this week. We’d plan and organise a huge garden party and with our patients’ help we’d invite every patient, including inpatients, their families, friends and visitors, together with every member of staff, including domestic staff, porters, Consultants and community teams, the local sixth forms, colleges and local dignitaries.

We downloaded all the available resources and made hand-out packs to give to visitors every day that week and to the party guests who promised to promote awareness in their workplaces, at colleges and universities. We always managed to get a small spot in the local newspaper and — okay — we never hit the front page but patients loved seeing their efforts being recognised.

UK mental health awareness initiatives

Workplace discussion about mental
health – Image by

Fortunately, we have more than one organisation promoting the various mental health awareness days. In the UK, each year in February, the Time to Talk Day tries to encourage openness about mental health to help people talk, listen and support others. While I wonder how many people are even aware of it, let alone participate, I still think it’s a great initiative.

April 2020Stress Awareness Month has been running every April since 1992 in a bid to increase public awareness of both the causes and treatments for stress.

9th May 2020National Schizophrenia Awareness Day shines a light on the challenges faced by hundreds of thousands of people living with a diagnosis of schizophrenia in the UK and millions more worldwide.

These are just a few of the key dates and events that Rethink will be covering — check this page often as some themes have yet to be announced.

Global mental health awareness

Global mental health awareness –
Image from

Wherever you live, I’m sure you’ve got similar initiatives and maybe you have different dates where your local organisations promote mental health awareness? Do they have online resources that you could use and share?

If you work in the care sector, encourage your colleagues, the care workers and those they care for to start a conversation about mental health? If you work in offices, factories, schools or in the community and you’re not sure how to start the conversation, download information packs to help you with ways to do this.

Talking about our own mental illness

For those of us who experience mental illness, it can be difficult or awkward to open up and it’s up to you entirely who you tell. But sharing it with someone might be a good way of getting some much needed support during difficult periods. You might even feel relieved not having to hide anymore and enjoy having someone to confide in at last.

Talking about mental health with
family – Image by

Furthermore if we’re able to talk openly about mental health, more people might be encouraged to seek professional help. Perhaps families and friends can learn from us, the way forward, to open up and talk about mental illness in their own families. They might even be inspired and join in— by lobbying our governments for better mental health care and improved services, together with raising awareness of mental illness and the impact it has on both patients and their families.

Only by raising this awareness will we be able reduce the discrimination and stigma that accompany mental illness.

Prevention is best

If we can do all the above, governments will be more informed and will have the knowledge needed to provide the right information, guidance and support in childhood and adolescence. The chances of developing mental health problems can be reduced for millions of people over a lifetime – with enormous benefits to the people directly affected, along with their families, friends and the communities they live in, Mental Health Foundation, 2015.

Prevention is best because, as yet, there is no cure.

While much of the work is done by the very people who experience mental illness, do you have any ideas about how to include others in this fight to raise awareness? Is there something else we can or should be doing? I’m looking forward to your comments or any questions.


  1. Public Health England. Health profile for England: 2019 [Internet]. 2019. Available from:
  2. Stevenson D, Farmer P. Thriving at work: The Independent Review of Mental Health and Employers [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2017 Nov 22]. Available from:
  3. Davies SC. Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer 2013, Public Mental Health Priorities: Investing in the Evidence [Internet]. 2014. Available from:
  4. Kessler RC, Berglund P, Demler O, Jin R, Merikangas KR, Walters EE. Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry [Internet]. 2005 Jun 1 [cited 2018 Oct 16];62(6):593. Available from:
  5. Office for National Statistics. Suicides in the UK: 2018 registrations [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2020 Jan 6]. Available from:
  6. Alonso J, Liu Z, Evans-Lacko S, Sadikova E, Sampson N, Chatterji S, et al. Treatment gap for anxiety disorders is global: Results of the World Mental Health Surveys in 21 countries. Depress Anxiety [Internet]. 2018 Mar [cited 2018 Jun 26];35(3):195–208. Available from:
  7. Evans-Lacko S, Aguilar-Gaxiola S, Al-Hamzawi A, Alonso J, Benjet C, Bruffaerts R, et al. Socio-economic variations in the mental health treatment gap for people with anxiety, mood, and substance use disorders: results from the WHO World Mental Health (WMH) surveys. Psychol Med [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2018 Jun 26];1–12. Available from: