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TW: Mention of depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, psychosis, mass shootings, and violence. 

The stigma around anxiety and depression has impacted my healing journey. At 17, it discouraged me from asking my parents for help, ended my friendships, and left me feeling alone. At 22, it caused me to doubt my ability to be successful. At 25, it still makes me hesitate before I share my story with people I don’t know. 

The word stigma is frequently used throughout mental health discourse, and it is generally used to describe barriers individuals may face while experiencing a mental health challenge. The American Psychological Association defines stigma as “the negative social attitude attached to a characteristic of an individual that may be regarded as a mental, physical, or social deficiency. A stigma implies social disapproval and can lead unfairly to discrimination against and exclusion of the individual.” These barriers can stem from misunderstandings with their families, and communities, or their willingness to seek mental health treatment. Mental illness has been negatively correlated with many things: violence, inability to work, weakness, and disobedience, to name a few. But where did this stigma come from? And why is it so potent, even in the midst of our current mental health crisis?

Wulf Rössler, a German psychiatrist, wrote in 2016 that, “While stigma is universal, the experience of the stigmatized person is influenced by culture.” He notes many different examples of stigma throughout time: criminals in ancient Greece, mental illness viewed as a curse from God in the Middle Ages, and the sterilization of those with mental illness during the Holocaust. In American culture, there are a variety of historical elements that contribute to our current treatment and view of those with mental health challenges. 

In the 19th and 20th centuries, women were institutionalized against their will by their husbands over “disagreements.” Men did not need any evidence to submit their wives to a mental health hospital (Moore, 2021). Repeated mistreatment of marginalized communities such as African-Americans and LGBTQ+ folk discourages them from utilizing mental health resources. This treatment has looked like a lack of informed consent, violence against them while experiencing a mental health crisis, or diagnosing people in these communities with a mental illness just for being who they are. For men, they are often expected to be “strong” or “suck it up” when experiencing difficult situations and emotions. 

On top of these historical contributions, American media has perpetuated stigma in various ways. Movies like Split (portraying dissociative identity disorder), Shutter Island (portraying psychosis and trauma), and The Visit (portraying schizophrenia) add to the narrative that those with mental illnesses are violent, unpredictable, and dangerous. Mental illness is often co-opted as a plot device in the thriller and horror genre. In addition, shows like 13 Reasons Why have romanticized and idealized concepts like suicidality, further stigmatizing the truth behind experiencing such difficult thoughts and feelings.

However, stigma does not stop with entertainment media. The news media often portrays those with mental illness as violent. Findings from Johns Hopkins illustrated that 22% of articles about mass shootings attribute violence to mental illness, and overall depictions of violence were accredited to mental illness 38% of the time. However, the truth is that the research shows that those with a mental illness are rarely ever violent (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 2016). The portrayal of mental illness in the news has without a doubt contributed to the stigma we are actively confronting today.

If you are facing stigma in your life, knowing how it has evolved can help to paint the picture that stigma is not reality, but a collection of fear, uncertainty, and misinformation. Eight years into my journey of confronting stigma, I have learned that my lived experience with anxiety and depression is the best education I can use to eradicate harmful misconceptions. 

The experiences of those with mental health challenges are the most valuable information we can use to fight against stigma. To move past misinformation, sharing our stories openly and bravely can not only show the truth but save the lives of those who have not yet overcome their fight against stigma. Working together, we can make stigma history. 

To gain more stories of lived experience, check out more posts on the You Matter Blog.

For more information on stigma, visit Mental Health America:

Works Cited:

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (2016) Study: News Stories Often Link Violence with Mental Health Illness, Even Though People with Mental Health Illness Are Rarely Violent. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health,,only%20a%20small%20percentage%20actually

Moore, K (2021 June) The American History of Silencing Women through Psychiatry. Time, Time, 

National Institutes of Health (2017, January). Diseases of the Mind: Highlights of American Psychiatry through 1900 – Early Psychiatric Hospitals and Asylums. U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health,

Rössler, W (2016, July) The stigma of mental disorders. EMBO Reports. Vol 17(Issue 9), 1250-1253. doi 10.15252/embr.201643041


  • Skill Elevated

    It is so important to share our stories and stand together to dismantle the stigma surrounding mental health. Every voice added to this conversation brings us closer to a more compassionate world.

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  • fnaf plus

    What a long post!. I don’t wanna spend much time on reading it.

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  • drywall insulation

    It’s crucial to continue challenging these misconceptions and fostering understanding and support within our communities.

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  • deck staining

    I feel like the stigma around these issues is lessening. More accepted and understood…at least by compassionate people.

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  • Trickproblem

    We appreciate you taking the time to provide us with this crucial information. You wrote a pretty well-written and insightful post

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