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Breaking the Stigma of Mental Illness

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breakingTo commemorate Mental Health Month, we asked a few of our expert clinicians to share their thoughts on how to break the stigma of mental illness.

From Kathleen Gettelfinger, LMFT:

“We can work together to destigmatize mental illness by bringing it out of the shadows of shame and into the light. When we share that we ourselves have been touched by depression, anxiety, or some other form of mental illness, we give a human face to the struggle. Sharing can also help us understand that we are not alone and that others have shared in our struggle.”


From Cheryl Rampage, PhD, Executive Vice President of The Family Institute and Associate Director for Programs and Academic Affairs at The Center for Applied Psychological and Family Studies:

“I think that the example of the LGBT community is germane to this question. Prejudice against the gay community has diminished rapidly as gay people came out of the closet and forced the rest of us to recognize that they are much more like us than not, that they are our neighbors, our friends, our coworkers and our family members. Mental illness is still in the closet, and many people, even if they have recovered from the illness, still keep it a secret. The more that we acknowledge that mental illness is an illness, not a moral failing, the more people with mental illnesses will be willing to acknowledge their experience.”


From Karen Skerrett, PhD:

“Take every opportunity to educate; create ‘teachable moments’ when confronted by inaccuracies; share stories of your own challenges; emphasize hope and optimism.

Another good way to reduce stigma is to routinely screen for mental health issues at schools & doctors’ offices. You can get screened for depression just as you would cholesterol.”


From David Hauser, PhD:

“I notice this most with males, and the stigma of boys and men accessing help.  A recent viral YouTube video titled “The Mask we Live In​,” about the messages boys receive of what it means to ‘man up’ demonstrates this stigma well.  Across society, there are a slew of social messages for males suggesting that sharing yourself, openly talking about what you are feeling or what you are thinking is somehow shameful, when in actuality these behaviors are at the core of living a healthy life.

A method that I find to be most helpful in de-stigmatizing mental health with males is by meeting this population where they are at.  Via a website I started called Headie Sports and with a writing mission I have harnessed on covering the intersection of psychology, sports, and culture, I utilize the content of the cultural conversations that are relevant on the internet, social media, and around the water cooler to inject a more honest and open dialog about emotions, thoughts, and psychology related to the content. To combat stigma, we must have louder voices openly and comfortably communicating about the internal fears, vulnerabilities, and anxieties that innate to the human experience.  When these internal experiences go un-talked about this emotional and psychic material builds to the point that these thoughts and feelings only are experienced in bursts of anger and outbursts which ultimately does not feel good for anyone.

The stigma of mental illness can cause people to try to “keep it all in,” but there are centuries of data that demonstrates that this strategy simply does not work.  And I believe for males, based on the countless stilted and unrealistic messages streamed at them about certain aspects of masculinity, leaves this gender particularly vulnerable to this stigma.”


From Lisa Gordon, PhD:

“Our community can understand that every single one of us, with a certain array of stressors combined with limited emotional, financial, or practical support, has the potential for mental illness.”


The Family Institute offers affordable family, couples and individual counseling at our Evanston, downtown Chicago, Lagrange Park and Northbrook locations. Visit our website to learn more.

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