Reducing Mental Illness Stigma

1 in 4 of us is affected

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What is Mental Illness Stigma and Why Does it Hurt?

People who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses (i.e., depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, personality disorders, and developmental disorders) often have to live virtually in silence about their illnesses.  They are afraid to talk to other people about their mental illnesses simply because they may be avoided or even worse, the subject of discriminatory practices.  People are often perceived and treated differently if they have mental illnesses and are not afforded similar opportunities in life simply because of these mental illnesses.  For instance, some employers will not hire people if they have knowledge about the applicants' mental illnesses.  Others who rent may deny housing privileges to people due to their mental illnesses.  While others may simply AVOID any contact with people if they perceive mental illness is behind a person's behavior (i.e., talking to oneself, erratic behavior, delusional speech).  Ultimately, some people find it difficult to maintain a positive self image when faced with the challenges and it "hurts".

The stigma of mental illness involves both a private (self thinking) component and a public component.  A researcher by the name of Patrick Corrigan has written about the stigma of mental illness and provides an easy description of it.

Taken from: 

Corrigan P.  (Ed.).  (2005).  On the stigma of mental illness:  Practice strategies for research and social change.  Washington, DC:  American Psychological Association, p. 16.


A New Journal on Stigma Research--as of Spring 2011
 Stigma Research and Action is an open access journal that provides a multi-disciplinary, international forum for the presentation of scholarly research pertaining to prejudice and discrimination that is caused by health conditions, disabilities, or membership in marginalized social or cultural groups.  Click the hyperlink to access the website containing the journal.
The World Health Organization of Europe calls for more mental health promotion in young people.  I hope the United States finds a way to integrate some of these creative programs/interventions/tools for our young people.
Charlie Rose series, "The Brain Series"
Charlie Rose explores in 13 episodes different facets of the human brain.  Rose is a famous interviewer and broadcast journalist who is known to interview top acting professionals and businessmen.  On EPISODE 9 , The Mentally Ill Brain(see the episode from the link), Kay Redfield Jamison and Elyn Saks are interviewed about their mental illnesses.  These two women are leaders in their own fields, psychology and law, respectively.  They are remarkable women who have braved the stigma of mental illness in higher education and revealed how they have been able to take the journey of recovery from mental illness.
>Kay Redfield Jamison is the author of  "An Unquiet Mind:  A Memoir of Moods and Madness" , a book describing her experiences of managing bipolar disorder as a young adult into her professional life of being a famous psychologist at Johns Hopkins University working in the neurobiology of bipolar disorder.
>Elyn Saks is the author of  "The Center Cannot Hold" , a memoir about Saks' journey from adolescence to adulthood in managing schizophrenia while accomplishing a career in law. She is a professor of law at University of Southern California Gould School of Law. She describes the psychiatric treatment in hospitals while living in the UK and in the US--some very poignant differences.

Information from the 1 Credit College Course I taught entitled, "Reducing Mental Illness Stigma"

 The syllabus is here:  IU193SyllabusFall07.doc

I used some PowerPoint Slides and they are listed below:

Mental Illness Introduction

The Brain and Mental Illness

Stigma and Suicide

TIPS Program from Norway

Putting it all Together

Here are some handouts I used in Microsoft Word 2003:

Why Train for Mental Health First Aid - Australia

Famous People with MentalI llness

Clubhouse Recovery

Early Onset Schizophrenia

Magic of the Geel Community - Located in Belgium

Important Terms about Geel

What is SAD?

Shadow Voices Video - About It

What are Prodromal Symptoms?

What is Service Learning?

Some Great Websites on Mental Illnesses


The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Adminstration (SAMSHA), the U.S. government agency devoted this website to young adults between 18 and 25 years.  The website is now running and contains some excellent tips on how to talk to a friend with mental illness in order to reduce the stigma associated with having the diagnosis.  This is becoming an excellent website.


The CDC has provide an excellent webpage for college students in managing their stress and health.  It has several suggestions and links to developing healthy friendships, healthy eating, tips on sleeping well, eating disorders, suicide prevention, depression, sexual violence in relationships, alcohol and substance use issues, STDs, and trying to think positively.  I highly recommend this website.

OF LIKE MINDS, It is Now Called MOODLetter, (it takes awhile to load but worth the wait)

A website for both helpers and people diagnosed with mood and/or anxiety disorders.  It contains helpful information on a broad spectrum of topics from how to help someone with a mental illness to what is ECT.


Active Minds is the nation's only peer-to-peer organization dedicated to raising awareness about mental health among college students. The organization serves as the young adult voice in mental health advocacy on over one hundred college campuses nationwide.


Mental Health America (formerly known as the National Mental Health Association) is the country’s leading nonprofit dedicated to helping ALL people live mentally healthier lives.

BRING CHANGE 2 MIND, NATIONAL ANTI-STIGMA CAMPAIGN is a not-for-profit organization created by Glenn Close, the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation (CABF), Fountain House, and Garen and Shari Staglin of IMHRO (International Mental Health Research Organization).
The idea of a national anti-stigma campaign was born of a partnership between Glenn Close and Fountain House, where Glenn volunteered in order to learn about mental illness, which both her sister and nephew suffer from.


Helpguide was created in 1999 by the Rotary Club of Santa Monica with active participation by Rotarians Robert and Jeanne Segal following the tragic suicide of their daughter Morgan. Since then, a dedicated team of talented people have collaborated to create a free, non-commercial resource for people in need.  INFORMATION IS AVAILABLE FROM MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES TO NUTRITION AND SLEEP ISSUES.

SANE Australia,

This is a link to an Australian website, a non-profit, nongovernmental organization that has been around since 1985.  SANE Australia is a national charity working for a better life for people affected by mental illness through: campaigns, education, and research.  The link provided is to the fact sheets.  They are excellent and include topics on many mental illnesses, ECT, smoking and mental illness, and many others.


Families for Depression Awareness helps families recognize and cope with depressive disorders to get people well and prevent suicides.  It contains information on how people, family members or FRIENDS, can help a loved one get help, acquire knowledge, and get support from people who share similar life experiences.
Joey Pants (actor from "Sopranos") developed No Kidding, Me Too!, a 501(c)(3) public charity, whose purpose is to remove the stigma attached to brain dis-ease (BD) through education and the breaking down of societal barriers. Our goal is to empower those with BD to admit their illness, seek treatment, and become even greater members of society.

Book Recommendations

Bipolar Bare:  My Life's Journey with Mental Disorder (2009), 

Bipolar Bare is a memoir creatively written by Carlton Davis (architect, artist, and author) that describes his journey to recovery in managing bipolar disorder.  Carlton is a graduate of Yale University and The University of London.  He richly describes his life through the eyes of Carlotta, a foil, and himself.  His life challenges might seem to be on the fringes but it is a well written description of how he was able to “manage” a mind gone awry.  Davis portrays through the novel precisely why our mental health system must address the addictions and diagnoses of mental illnesses (schizophrenia, mood disorders, and anxiety disorders) together.  We all too often dismiss people’s addictions as problems of self-indulgence when in many cases the addiction to drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, eating, etc. is a way for people to manage their own moods, anxieties, or thought disturbances.  If you are ready to read a gutsy novel that is hard to put down describing some uncouth excursions, you are sure to find “Bipolar Bare” fits the bill.

Behind Happy Faces (2007) by Ross Szabo and Melanie Hall, a website link is
A practical book on mental illnesses common among young adults written in a down-to-earth fashion.  What to do to avoid hiding behind the "happy face".
Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness (2006) by Pete Earley, a former journalist for the Washington Post,  Here is the website link to the book,
This book describes Pete Earley's experiences with the criminal justice system when his own son breaks the law in a manic phase of his bipolar disorder.  Earley writes about the inhumane treatment many people experience in jails when their mental illness "turns on them" and they act out by breaking the law.

 Some Scholarly Readings on the Stigma of Mental Illness

American Psychiatric Association.  (2006).  College mental health statistics.  Retrieved May 1, 2006 from (link not available anymore but you can access a website devoted to college mental health by the American Pyschiatric Association, here

Barnes, H.  (2004).  Social exclusion and psychosis:  Exploring some of the links and possible implications for practice.  Social Work in Mental Health, 2(2/3), 207-233.
Byrne, P. (2000). Stigma of mental illness and ways of diminishing it. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 6, 65-72.
Corrigan, P. (2004). How stigma interferes with mental health care. American Psychologist, 59(7), 614-625.

Corrigan, P. W., & Miller, F. E.  (2004).  Shame, blame, and contamination:  A review of the impact of mental illness stigma on family members.  Journal of Mental Health, 13(6), 537-548.

Estroff, S. E., Penn, D. L., & Toporek, J. R.  (2004).  From stigma to discrimination:  An analysis of community efforts to reduce the negative consequences of having a psychiatric disorder and label.  Schizophrenia Bulletin, 30(3), 493-509.

Fisher, D. & Ahern, L.  (2006).  People can recover from mental illness.  Retrieved August 16, 2006 from the National Empowerment Center Website:

Frey, L. J., Tobin, J., & Beesley, D.  (2004).  Relational predictors of psychological distress in women and men presenting for university counseling center services.  Journal of College Counseling, 7, 129-139.

Hardina, D.  (2005).  Ten characteristics of empowerment-oriented social service organizations.  Administration in Social Work, 29(3), 23-42.

Hecht, D.  (1999).  Peer help through service:  Learned helpfulness.  Social Policy, 30(1), 34-41.

Kadison, R.  (2006).  College psychiatry 2006:  Challenges and opportunities.  Journal of American College Health, 54(6), 338-340.

Kitchener, B. A., & Jorm, A. F.  (2005).  Mental health first aid training:  Review of evaluation studies.  Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 40, 6-8.

    Kitchener, B., & Jorm, A.  (2002).  Mental health first aid manual.  Centre for Mental Health Research,Canberra. 
    Retrieved on December 8, 2005, revised manual is available at

Link, B. G., Yang, L. H., Phelan, J. C., & Collins, P. Y.  (2004).  Measuring mental illness stigma.  Schizophrenia Bulletin, 30(3), 511-541.

McKinney, K.  (2006).  Initial Evaluation of Active Minds:  The stigma of mental illness and willingness of college students to seek professional help.  Unpublished master's thesis, Colorado State University, Fort Collins. ( Available here.--it is in .pdf format and you may need to right click the hot link and save it your computer prior to opening).

Mowbray, C. T., Megivern, D., Mandiberg, J. M., Strauss, S., Stein, C. H., Collins, K., Kopels, S., Curlin, C., & Lett, R.  (2006).  Campus mental health services:  Recommendations for change.  American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 76(2), 226-237.

National Institutes of Mental Health.  (2006).  The numbers count:  Mental disorders in America.  (NIMH publication NO. 06-4504).  Bethesda, MD:  Author.

National Institutes of Mental Health.  (2003).  In harm’s way:  Suicide in America (NIMH publication No. 03-4594).  Bethesda, MD:  Author.

Norman, R. M. G., Malla, A. K., Manchanda, R., Harricharan, R., Takhar, J., & Northcott, S.  (2005).  Social support and three-year symptom and admission outcomes for first episode psychosis.  Schizophrenia Research, 80, 227-234.

Rose, S. M.  (2000).  Reflections on empowerment-based practice.  Social Work, 45(5), 403-412.

Solomon, P.  (2004).  Peer support/peer provided services underlying processes, benefits, and critical ingredients.  Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 27(4), 392-401.

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