Before You Label People, Look At Their Contents
By: the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
When mental illnesses are used as labels-depressed, schizophrenic, manic, or
hyperactive-these labels hurt.
Labels lead to stigma -- a word that means branding and shame. And stigma
leads to discrimination. Everyone knows why it is wrong to discriminate against
people because of their race, religion, culture, or appearance. They are less
aware of how people with mental illnesses are discriminated against. Although
such discrimination may not always be obvious, it exists-and it hurts.
Words Can Be Poison
The stigma of mental illness is real, painful, and damaging to the lives of
people with mental illness. Stigma prevents them from getting the treatment and
support they need to lead healthy, normal lives.
Stigma discourages people from getting help. At any given time, one
in four adults and one in five children experience a mental health problem.
Early and appropriate services can be the best way to prevent an illness from
getting worse. Many people don't seek such services because they don't want to
be labeled as "mentally ill" or "crazy."
Stigma keeps people from getting good jobs and advancing in the workplace.
Some employers are reluctant to hire people who have mental illnesses. Thanks
to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), such discrimination is illegal.
But it still happens!
Stigma leads to fear, mistrust, and violence. Even though the vast
majority of people who have mental illnesses are no more violent than anyone
else, the average television viewer sees three people with mental illnesses
each week-and most of them are portrayed as violent. Such inaccurate
portrayals lead people to fear those who have mental illnesses.
Stigma results in prejudice and discrimination. Many individuals try
to prevent people who have mental illnesses from living in their neighborhoods.
Stigma results in inadequate insurance coverage. Many insurance plans
do not cover mental health services to the same degree as other illnesses. When
mental illnesses are covered, coverage may be limited, inappropriate, or
Words Can Heal
Here are six steps you can follow to help end the stigma which surrounds
- Learn more. Many
organizations sponsor nationwide programs about mental health and mental
illness. Several are listed at the end of this brochure.
- Insist on accountable
media. Sometimes the media portray people who have mental illnesses
inaccurately, and this makes stereotypes harder to change.
- Obey the laws in the
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA
prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas
of public life, including housing, employment, and public
transportation. Mental illnesses are considered a disability covered
under the ADA.
- Recognize and
appreciate the contributions to society made by people who have mental
illnesses. People who have mental illnesses are major contributors to
American life-from the arts to the sciences, from medicine to entertainment
to professional sports.
- Treat people with the
dignity and respect we all deserve. People who have mental illnesses may
include your friends, your neighbors, and your family.
- Think about the
person-the contents behind the label. Avoid labeling people by their
diagnosis. Instead of saying, "She's a schizophrenic," say,
"She has a mental illness." Never use the term "mentally
Programs to End Stigma
Many National and State groups have begun projects and campaigns to reverse
stigma. These groups offer a range of programs and materials, from speakers
bureaus to training programs for mental health professionals. To get involved,
call them. And to learn more about mental health, call SAMHSA's National
Mental Health Information
Center at 800-789-CMHS (2647).
SAMHSA's National Mental
CenterP.O. Box 42490
Washington, DC 20015
World Wide Web:
The Anti-Stigma Project
1521 South Edgewood Street, Suite C
Baltimore, MD 21227
Phone 410-646-0262, 800-704-0262, or
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
(DBSA)730 North Franklin Street, Suite 501
Chicago, IL 60610
Erasing the Stigma of Mental Illness Serving Hands International4607 Mission Gorge Place
San Diego, CA 92120
The National Alliance for the
Mentally Ill200 North Glebe Road
Arlington, VA 22203-3754
800-950-NAMI or 703-524-7600
The National Empowerment
Lawrence, MA 01843
The National Mental Health Association Information Center
2001 N. Beauregard Street -
Alexandria, VA 22311
The National Mental Health Consumers' Self-Help Clearinghouse1211 Chestnut Street, Suite 1000
Philadelphia, PA 19107