Educational-inspirational-transformative Garraway Publication

Speak No Stigma

As a collective, our society made significant strides in normalizing mental health and substance use treatment. A pre-Covid-19 survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (2019) showed an increase in the percentage of adults who had taken medication for their mental health, and the percentage who had received counseling or therapy decreased (See Figure Below/Click to Open). Today, I noticed an increase in the number of individuals seeking treatment, and from my practice, fewer individuals are quitting prematurely. With the number of individuals entering treatment seemingly increasing, so is the stigma surrounding their care (Forde, 2020; Scarf, D., et al., 2020). Stigma directly hurts individuals with mental illness and substance use disorders, on their path to recovery. Stigma promotes injustices and sometimes devastating consequences for these individuals and their families (Ciftci, Jones, & Corrigan, 2013).

 SOURCE: National Center for Health Statistics, National Health Interview Survey, 2019.

Mental health and substance use disorder diagnoses are more prevalent than heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, migraines, and asthma, yet misconception and misinformation have left many people with mental illness and substance use disorders afraid to talk about their experiences or to seek help ( The fear of stigma commonly ranges from label avoidance, public stigma, to self-stigma. Label avoidance refers to instances in which individuals choose not to seek help (Corrigan, Roe, & Tsang, 2011). The idea is to avoid treatment clinics or professionals thus avoiding diagnosis, treatment, and the negative labels associated. Public stigma is the prejudice and discrimination that blocks individuals’ access to employment, educational opportunities, health care, and housing (Collins, et al., 2019). Public stigma occurs when members of the public endorse stereotypes about mental illness and act based on these stereotypes, which may lead to self-stigma. Self-stigma occurs when individuals belonging to a stigmatized group internalize public prejudice and direct it toward themselves. (Corrigan, Larson, & Rusch, 2009).

One of the most significant harms resulting from the cycle of stigma is that individuals forego important life pursuits because they believe they should not pursue goals that society thinks such individuals cannot succeed in. Health, wellness, and recovery should not be concepts that individuals negotiate. I wonder if the foundation of which we use to start the conversation around anti-stigma is the golden rule of esteeming others higher than we esteem ourselves. We have a long way to go for us as a society to reach integration and full social acceptance of each other’s differences. Until then I want to challenge each of you to seek out an anti-stigma intervention and employ it. You can find several suggestions on this educational video.

If you are suffering and/or need additional resources, I encourage you to reach out here. There are mental health, substance use, and even self-care stigma coming from many directions. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of getting that weight off of your shoulder. I can help you do that.

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