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Mental Health Problems and Stigma


Mental health problems can include bipolar disorder, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and schizophrenia.

If you have a mental health problem, you may worry about what other people will think of you. In many cases, no one can even tell if you are having symptoms. But sometimes the fear that someone can tell is enough to cause concern.

You have a say in how others see you. The way you act and treat others can help influence people's attitudes toward you and toward mental health problems.


People sometimes have negative views about things they don't understand, such as mental health problems. Some people may believe things about mental health problems that aren't true. Other people may have good intentions but still feel uncomfortable when they learn that you have a mental health problem. This can make people treat you and your family differently. This is called stigma—when others judge you because you have a personal quality, trait, or condition.

Stigma occurs when others:

  • Don't understand the mental health problem.
  • Don't realize that a mental health problem is an illness that can be treated.
  • Think that a mental health problem is "your own fault" or that you can "get over it."
  • Are afraid that they might have a mental health problem someday.
  • Are nervous around you.

You may have your own negative feelings about having a mental health problem. You may not want an employer or even your friends to know. This is called "self-stigma." It can keep you from getting treatment or finding work.

Getting past stigma

It's important to remember that there's nothing to feel ashamed of. The problem is with your brain, not with you.

Speak kindly to yourself, and use kind words to talk about your mental health problem to others. Learn about your condition so that you can understand the myths that might make you feel self-stigma. If you are comfortable doing so, you can offer to teach others about your mental health problem. When people understand it as a medical problem, they can feel more educated and less fearful.

Stigma at work

There are pros and cons to talking with your employer about your mental health. Your health care team may have suggestions about what to share and how best to do that. You have the right to keep your mental health information private.

Treating your symptoms helps you be a better worker. So if you have any special needs, you may want to think about talking with your supervisor about your condition. You may feel less stressed if you are open about any special needs. These include things like needing time off for medical appointments.

Your employer is not allowed to discriminate against you because of your mental health problem.

Finding a job

If you are looking for a job, the Department of Labor for your state may offer services to help you. Services may include:

  • Job skills training. This includes help with preparing for interviews, writing resumes, and learning other skills needed to find work.
  • On-the-job training placement. This helps you get work experience.

Stigma in legal issues

People with mental health problems have the same rights as other citizens. For example, you have the right to vote and to take part in legal agreements. These include marriage, divorce, and business ventures. Most states and many health care groups have a bill of rights for people with mental health problems. For example, you have the right to privacy about your illness and treatment plan. And you have the right to treatment that places the fewest possible limits on your lifestyle.

People with mental health problems sometimes have symptoms that make it hard to make decisions. It's good to prepare legal papers in case this happens. It's best to do this when you have few or no symptoms.

  • An advance directive tells your wishes for treatment when you have severe symptoms.
  • A durable power of attorney for health care says who will be in charge of making decisions when you can't make them for yourself. This document can be very helpful if your symptoms get so bad that you need someone you trust to make treatment decisions for you.
  • A power of attorney lets you choose someone to help you deal with money if your symptoms keep you from doing this on your own. Find someone you trust to co-sign financial documents. These include things like credit card applications and mortgage papers.


Current as of: October 20, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Christine R. Maldonado PhD - Behavioral Health
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine


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