If someone has a mental health or a substance use disorder, that’s just one part of who they are. But sadly, many behavioral health disorders have a harmful stigma attached.
That’s not OK. Behavioral health disorders should be viewed the same as other treatable, chronic health conditions like asthma or diabetes. Everyone is unique – we all have strengths and challenges. We need to see the whole person, rather than focus on a label. We need to See Past the Stigma.
Your actions and words make a difference. Spread compassion, not judgement!
Here’s how you can help:
- Understand that mental illness and substance use disorders are brain diseases—not a moral failing or something they brought on themselves.
- If you have a family member or friend with a behavioral health condition, you can make a difference by offering support, kindness and empathy.
- If someone opens up to you about their condition or expresses they are thinking about suicide, listen to them and let them know that you are there to support them. Just listening makes a huge difference. Don’t feel obligated to give advice or pretend to understand what they are going through. You can say, “I can’t begin to understand what you’re going through, but I’m here to support you.”
- Relapse is common and is part of the recovery process. When a person relapses that is a sign that they need help—not that they have failed to recover. You can say, “I am still here for you and will continue to support you on your path to recovery.”
- Meet people where they are. Some people may not get treatment right away. That’s ok. Every person’s path is different and there is not one type of treatment that works for everyone. It’s important to accept and support people wherever they are with their emotional health and wellness.
Together we can change the conversation.
Harmful stereotypes about people with behavioral health disorders are everywhere. It’s not okay to portray behavioral health disorders as scary or funny. Jokes about mental illness or substance use trivialize very serious conditions.
If you see or hear something, speak up. The words we use to talk about mental illness and substance use are important. Statements like the ones below are harmful and perpetuate stigma.
- She’s so emotional. What a psycho.
- Addicts can’t change.
- She came up dirty again.
- He’s so crazy, such a mental case.
- He’s on methadone and just substituting one drug for another.
Use positive, empowering words and phrases instead. See the guide below for stigma-free language.
|Addict||Person with a substance use disorder|
|Crazy, Psycho, mental||Person with a mental illness|
|Dirty||Actively using drugs or tested positive for using drugs|
|Clean||Abstinent or not using drugs/alcohol|
|Former addict||Person in recovery|
|Committed suicide||Died by suicide|
|Replacement/ Substitution Therapy||Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)|