drawing of head and brain to show mental health concept

Is There Still the Same Stigma About Mental Health Disorders or Are We Getting More Enlightened?

Slowly but surely, we’re leaving the old days of stigma around mental health treatment behind. This is due in large part to the work of Mental Health America (MHA) and Mental Health Month. Each year in the month of May, local, state, and national organizers collaborate to host this important awareness month. In addition to Mental Health America, sponsors include the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the Substance Abuse and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA), and various other government-sponsored agencies and non-profit groups around the country.

This year, the theme for Mental Health Month is simple easy to understand. It’s designed for people who want to help advocate and raise awareness, but don’t know how:

“Where to Start: Mental Health in a Changing World”

The purpose Mental Health Month 2024, under the umbrella of the “Where to Start’ theme, is to spread awareness and help people nationwide accomplish three goals:

  1. Learn how modern life affects mental health.
  2. Act so you can develop the skills to process challenging emotions, manage stress, and deal with difficult situations.
  3. Advocate to improve your own mental health and the mental health of your friends, family, and community.

We’ll take a look at these goals and how each of us can work to achieve them, in our own way, and contribute to greater awareness of the benefits of understanding mental health issues and knowing real facts about mental health treatment.

Reducing Stigma: Awareness Works

The best antidote for stigma is knowledge. Stigma means “a set of negative or unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something.” In the past, the stigma around mental health revolved around the mistaken idea that mental health disorders, issues, or problems were the result of a character flaw or were a sign of weakness. It was common to think that people with mental health disorders simply needed to toughen up and get over it.

In the 21st century, we know better, and the stigma around mental health disorders is gradually decreasing. We now know that mental health disorders are medical conditions that respond well to evidence-based treatment. They’re caused by a combination of genetics, environment, and life circumstances.

Mental illness is not caused by a character flaw or inherent personal weakness. A mental illness is a medical condition that responds to evidence-based treatment and support.

Understanding details about mental health and recognizing the presence of mental health issues helps remove and reduce stigma, because when we understand the real facts, we learn that mental health issues are far more common than most of us realize, they can happen to anyone, and that treatment for mental health disorders works.

What Affects Mental Health?

The organizers of Mental Health Month 2024 believe that the more know about what affects mental health, the more we can reduce the stigma around mental health. Most of us understand that pressure from school or work can have a negative impact on mental health, as well as problems in our relationships with friends and family.

However, there are a number of factors that can have a negative impact on mental health that are less obvious, including:

Current events
  • From conflicts overseas to political and social issues at home, one recent study showed that close to ¾ of people in the U.S. feel overwhelmed by the various crises happening in the world right now.
  • This is the double-edged sword that’s right at the heart of our culture and society today. Computers and technology put everyone and everything right at our fingertips. We have instant access to everything, but does this instant internet connectivity make us instantly happy? This is a question each of us needs to answer for ourselves. However, we can report that internet-related FOMO and doomscrolling are more likely to have a negative than positive impact on mental health.
Social/Environmental Factors
  • Also known as the social determinants of health (SDOH), these refer to the conditions in which we “live, work, and play.” Research shows that factors such as education, economic status, and access to healthy food, healthcare, and greenspace can have a significant impact on mental health. To learn more about the SDOH and youth mental health, please read our article “What Affects the Mental Health of Children?

Awareness about how these four things impact our mental health is essential in expanding our knowledge and awareness and reducing stigma around mental health. It’s not just relationships, work stress, or academic pressure that can impact our mental health. Sometimes it’s the things we encounter every day that impact us – and the better we get at recognizing, the better we can improve and maintain our mental health.

Stigma and Mental Health Disorders: Learn, Act, Advocate

This year for Mental Health Month, the directive is to “Learn, Act, and Advocate.”

So far, in this article, you’ve learned important things about mental health and the less-than-obvious factors that can impact your mental health.

That’s part one of your job for Mental Health Month.

To advocate for mental health this May, you can do two things. First, share the information you learned above with anyone who will listen: these are things we all need to know. Second, during May, you can wear green to show solidarity. Consider accepting the “Be Seen in Green Challenge” from May 1st to May 31st.

That’s part two of your job for Mental Health Month.

What’s left? Act.

To take action to improve your mental health, you can:

  1. Engage in self-care: socialize, exercise, meditate, or take time to do things that feed your soul and improve your mood.
  2. Address basic needs: make sure you eat well, get enough sleep, and attend to personal hygiene.
  3. Process feelings: if something big is going on in your life, seek out a trusted friend and talk things through.
  4. Seek professional support: if talking to a trusted friend doesn’t help, we suggest seeking the help of a professional. This could be a guidance counselor at school or a therapist in the community.

You can take the time to learn, act, and advocate for mental health during Mental Health Month. When you do, you improve not only your mental health, but also increase the chances people with mental health issues can move past stigma and get the help they need.

Thanks to you, organizations like Mental Health America, and advocacy efforts like Mental Health Month 2024, we think we’re actually getting more enlightened. Slowly, year by year, the stigma around mental health disorders is gradually fading away.