Teen Mental Health Stigma and How to Fight It

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Teen Mental Health Stigma

Teen mental health stigma is serious. A mental health or substance use disorder is hard enough. But another layer of pain comes with mental health conditions. This is dealing with other’s reactions to them. Stigma describes the negative attitudes held by individuals and society. Stigma is felt toward those with depression, substance use disorder, and other health challenges.

Researchers say that stigma around mental health is common. In addition, one study measuring attitudes toward mental illness found only 25 percent surveyed are sympathetic to mental health challenges.

Hence, mental health stigma is an obstacle to increasing awareness and ensuring people get the help they need.

What Is Stigma?

Stigma is defined simply. It is, “a cluster of negative attitudes and beliefs that motivate the general public to fear, avoid, and discriminate against people with mental illnesses,” according to a report by the President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health. There is stigma associated with drug addiction and stigma associated with mental illness.

Erving Goffman, a noted sociologist, studied stigma in the 1970s. He describes stigma as “the phenomenon whereby an individual with an attribute which is deeply discredited by his/her society is rejected as a result of the attribute.”

Stigma around mental health or other conditions leads to

  • Social exclusion and isolation
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Discrimination
  • Lack of a supportive community
  • Difficulty finding education or employment opportunities
  • Limited access to quality health care.

Newport Academy Mental Health Resources Mental Health Stigma Facts


The Consequences of Stigma on Teenage Mental Illness

A consequence of stigma is people don’t get the treatment they need. Hence, only half of those with a mental health condition get treatment, according to Mental Health America. People are afraid to disclose that they have mental health problems. They fear they will be treated differently.

When those with mental health conditions don’t get help, they self-medicate. They use drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes. In addition, they engage in self-destructive behaviors such as binge-eating or other eating disorders. Therefore, stigma can lead to teenage substance abuse and eating disorders. Additionally, it can increase risky behavior, social media addiction, and teen cell phone addiction. Adolescents often look for distraction. Furthermore, they try to escape from the pain of stigma. Hence, they seek escape from teenage mental health issues. Therefore, teenage addiction is a symptom of underlying causes. And these causes are exacerbated by stigma. Thus, the stigma of addiction is another challenge one has to face.

Mental Health Stigma Impacts Overall Health

Over time, these behaviors can increase the risk of chronic diseases and poor health. Therefore, studies find an increased risk of death at younger ages for people with mental illness.

Moreover, stigma results in less public funds being put toward mental health services. In addition, those with mental health conditions may receive a poorer quality of care.

Newport Academy Mental Health Resources Mental Health Social Stigma Statistics

History of Stigma

The word “stigma” originally referred to a tattoo or mark. This mark was used for decorative or religious purposes. Also, it was also used to brand criminals or slaves so that they could be identified. Hence, beginning in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, the word became a negative term.

However, stigma around mental health disorders is traceable back to ancient Greece. In addition, it also traces back to the medieval and Renaissance periods in Europe. During these times, people often believed that mental illness was caused by demonic possession.

Negative attitudes towards mental illness persisted into the 18th century in the United States. Consequently, this led to the stigmatization of mental illness. Furthermore, this resulted in mentally ill people being treated inhumanely. As a result, they were often confined in unhygienic and degrading environments.

The Two Types of Stigma

Mental health stigma can be divided into two distinct types.

  1. Social stigma: negative attitudes and discriminating behavior directed towards those with mental health problems
  2. Perceived stigma or self-stigma: feelings of shame and self-blame internalized by those with mental health challenges. Self-stigma can undermine self-esteem.

However, not everyone with mental health challenges experiences self-stigma.

“Internalizing prejudice and discrimination is not a necessary consequence of stigma. Many people recognize stigma as unjust and, rather than being swept by it, take it on as a personal goal to change.”

—Patrick W. Corrigan and Deepa Rao, On the Self-Stigma of Mental Illness: Stages, Disclosure, and Strategies for Change

Newport Academy Mental Health Resources Truth About Mental Health Stigma

Myths and Truths About Mental Health

Stigma and negative attitudes about mental health create stereotypes and myths.

Here are a few myths and truths about mental health.

The myth: Mental illness is rare, and most people are not affected by it.

The truth: Most families in America are affected by mental illness. According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), about 43 million American adults (18 percent of adults in the US) suffer from mental illness. Furthermore, 1 in 5 teens (20 percent) suffers from a mental health disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

The myth: People with mental illness don’t get better. A report by the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) found that only one-quarter of young adults (ages 18–24) believed that a person with mental illness can recover.

People Can and Do Recover

The truth: Most people with mental health conditions can and do recover. Studies show that most get better, and many recover completely.

The myth: People with mental health disorders or substance abuse disorder should take the blame for their illness.

The truth: Individuals who suffer from mental health and substance abuse disorders are not to blame for their conditions. Moreover, the roots of these conditions are complex. In addition, they often include genetic and neurobiological factors. Also included are environmental causes such as trauma, societal pressures, and family dysfunction.

The myth: People with mental illness are not good at their jobs. The DHHS report found that just 42 percent of Americans believe that a person with mental illness can be as successful as others in the workplace.

The truth: People with mental illnesses are good employees. Studies by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Alliance to the Mentally Ill (NAMI) confirm this. There are no differences in productivity.

The myth: Treatment doesn’t help. The DHHS report found that only about half (54 percent) of young adults who knew someone with a mental illness believed treatment would help them.

The truth: Treatment can and does help. Consequently, there are now more treatment approaches than ever. These include holistic treatment at residential treatment centers. In addition, treatment includes group and individual therapy, experiential modalities, mindfulness practices, and other approaches. Therefore, all of these therapies build coping skills.

Read about Newport Academy’s approach to teen mental health treatment.

Newport Academy Mental Health Resources How to Fight Mental Health Stigma

How to Fight Mental Health Stigma

To reduce mental health stigma, action must be taken at all levels of society.

Hence, individuals and organizations can make a difference.

  • The media can avoid sensational stories about mental illness and portray more stories of recovery by people with mental health challenges.
  • Political leaders can support policies that help people access mental health treatment more easily. Also, they should work toward increasing funding for mental health awareness campaigns.
  • Researchers can continue to study and monitor attitudes toward mental illness.
  • Mental health organizations can provide education and resources in their communities.
  • Everyone can change the way they refer to those with mental health conditions by avoiding labels. Instead of saying, “she’s anorexic,” for example, say “she has anorexia.”
  • Individuals can learn how to offer reassurance and acceptance. This extends to friends, family members, neighbors, or others with mental health challenges. Therefore, this means we need to express concern and let go of preconceptions.

In conclusion, when we all work together we can create change. When we can change our attitudes toward those with mental health challenges, stigma will be reduced. As a result, more people will get the help they need to recover and live full, healthy lives.


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“Attitudes Toward Mental Illness” report by the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, compiled by the CDC, DHHS, SAMSA, and NIMH