Ways to Reduce Stigma and Become a Mental Health Advocate

If you have 15 minutes…

  1. Begin a discussion with your family, friends, or social network about a mental health topic even if it does not pertain to you specifically. Sharing, liking and commenting on posts directly from the Keep Oregon Well social media pages (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, etc.) is a great way to do this!
  2. Forward a mental health-related article to a friend or family member or post links to your social media to spread awareness about emotional health topics to start and keep conversations going.
  3. Read an article on a mental health topic that you have been curious about or are interested in.

If you have an hour or two…

  1. Watch a documentary about a mental or behavioral health. There are many TV shows about these issues available, as well.
  2. Call or meet with a trusted friend or family member if you have been feeling down, stressed or anxious and tell them how you are feeling. It can feel difficult to reach out at first, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. The people in your life who love you will welcome this as a sign of trust and it will facilitate closeness in your most treasured relationships.
  3. If you have a friend or family member who you have been concerned about, call them to see how they are feeling. Listen intently and without judgment. Often times, just being there for someone who is struggling with their mental health is enough to make all the difference in the world!
  4. Write down what your stereotypes, prejudices and potentially discriminatory behaviors are regarding specific mental health issues (e.g. depression, stress, bipolar disorder, addiction, etc.) Looking at our own misconceptions and naming them is the first step toward releasing them.
  5. Ask someone who has openly shared that they have lived with mental health issues what their experience has been like. Chances are good that, since they have already come out about their struggle, your interest will validate the importance of their having told their story. This will be both healing for them, and educational for you.

If you have a weekend…

  1. Read a book about a mental health subject that you have been curious about or are interested in.
  2. Research mental health policies and write a letter to political representatives (members of Congress, senators, mayors, etc.) to educate them about mental health struggles or to offer your opinion on a specific policy. — and be sure to vote! Your voice matters.
  3. Attend a conference or seminar on mental or behavioral healthcare. Education is the key to advocacy. The more you know, the more you can be of service to yourself and to your community.

Ongoing in your daily lives…

  1. Join a support group. There are lots of ways to reduce stigma around the struggles we face in our daily lives. Talking with others who are experiencing similar struggles is a great way to break down the internal barriers many of us face.
  2. Be careful of the language you use. Stop using words like “crazy”, “nuts”, “psycho”, or “insane” to describe someone with an emotional issue, or as a put-down or descriptor for a situation. There are ways of politely correcting the use of problematic language with others in your life, as well. Sometimes a bit of awareness is all it takes! This is a great tool for fighting stigma.
  3. Along those same lines, beware of labels. Saying someone is “a schizophrenic” or “an addict” implies their identity is based on their illness or behavioral struggle. Instead, saying “a person living with schizophrenia” or “a person struggling with addiction” shows that they have more to them than their diagnosis. As the saying goes, “Labels are for jars, not people.”
  4. Get involved in supporting a mental health organization – YOU ARE ALREADY DOING THIS ONE. BRAVO!


Talking Points

Education is the key to advocacy. The more you know, the more you can be of service to yourself and to your community.

  • According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 1 in 5 Americans struggle with their mental health and about 5 percent of Americans have suffered from such severe mental illness that it interfered with day-to-day school, work or family.
  • Of Oregon’s approximately 3.8 million residents, close to 137,000 adults and about 39,000 children live with serious mental health conditions.
  • The rate of mental illness is more than twice as likely in young adults (18 to 25) than people older than 50.
  • Negative attitudes about mental illness often underlie stigma, which can cause affected persons to deny symptoms, delay treatment, be excluded from employment, housing, or relationships, and interfere with recovery.
  • Nationally, we lose one life to suicide every 15.8 minutes. Suicide is the 11th-leading cause of death overall and is the third-leading cause of death among youth and young adults (15 to 24)
  • According to the CDC, mental illness is associated with increased occurrence of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, epilepsy, and cancer.
  • Mental illness is associated with lower use of medical care, reduced adherence to treatment therapies for chronic diseases, and higher risks of adverse health outcomes.
  • Mental illness is associated with use of tobacco products and abuse of drugs and alcohol.
  • Many mental health conditions can be managed successfully, and increasing access to and use of mental health treatment services could substantially reduce the associated morbidity
  • Many chronic illnesses are associated with mental illnesses, and it’s been shown that treatment of mental illnesses associated with chronic diseases can reduce the effects of both and support better outcomes.
  • The economic burden of mental illness in the United States is substantial—about $300 billion annually.
  • According to the World Health Organization, mental illness results in more disability in developed countries than any other group of illnesses, including cancer and heart disease.
  • Published reports state that nearly 50% of U.S. adults will develop at least one mental illness during their lifetime.

(Sources: World Health Organization, Center for Disease Control, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Report of the Surgeon General’s Conference on Children’s Mental Health: A National Action Agenda, National Institute of Mental Health, “Suicide in the U.S.: Statistics and Prevention,”)