The Stigma of Mental Disorders and Mental Illnesses

LearnWell is specialized and dedicated to supporting the 49% of all students who may face an underlying mental health condition—such as anxiety, depression or other mood disorders—which often manifest in self-destructive behavior, substance use, and eating disorders. Inside our classrooms, this reality is what is known as a diagnosis. Outside our classrooms, however, this reality can often be what defines these students altogether. Perhaps that is due in part to the lack of public knowledge on the various types of mental illness or maybe it is due to the ever-present stigma associated with mental illnesses and disorders. Whatever the case, we strive to emphasize that our student-patients are far more than their illnesses and that stamping out stigma is a worthwhile charge for every individual.


According to the Stamp Out Stigma campaign, approximately 25 percent of all Americans will face mental health issues in a given year. That means that for every four individuals you come across, at least one will more than likely be struggling with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or another of the variety of mental health disorders recognized by the DSM V. What is more, mental illness does not discriminate. Age, gender, race, and all other distinguishable differences play no role in whether a person will face a mental health issue in their lifetime. And yet, less than one third of those seek help.


Fear is often the most influencing factor when deciding whether to get help. Project Helping, a volunteer organization created to advocate against stigma, lists several common concerns that act as obstacles to asking for help. These range from career advancement limitations to discrimination and isolation to limitations on health and life insurance (

While these concerns are certainly legitimate, the consequence of letting them act as barriers to mental health aid are significant. Without professional help, struggling individuals stand to watch as their illness cripples their life, causing damage to their physical health and interfering with their ability to live a full, flourishing existence. On top of that, the risk of suicide heightens the longer the individual suffers in silence.

But we—you and I—can help.


Chances are, someone in your life is facing a mental health condition at this very moment. It might be someone very close to you or merely an acquaintance. Either way, you can make a difference by helping to stamp out the stigma surrounding mental illness so that those suffering not only feel free to get help, but compelled to do so. Fortunately, there is a very simple way to do this.

Share your stories and share the facts—whether in person or online, the most important thing that you can do is to simply open the door to a conversation about mental health. In addition, make an intentional effort to define people for who they are rather than their diagnosis. Those suffering with mental illness are not their illness and though they may need an extra helping hand, they are certainly worthy of that much and more.

For more information on the stigma associated with mental illness and on ways to help, visit and

Authored by Diana Dreher

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