Destigmatizing Mental Health: How Public Figures Make an Impact

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A person speaks with a counselor.Mental health disorders are some of the most common conditions that affect Americans today. According to the most recent statistics provided by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 1 in 5 adults in America experience mental illness, and nearly 1 in 25 live with a serious mental illness.

Some of the most common mental health conditions include obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder and clinical depression. To illustrate how common these conditions are, the NIMH reported that approximately 21 million U.S. adults (8.4% of the population) suffered from at least one major depressive episode in 2020.

Coping with a depressive illness or mental health disorder is already a challenge. It can adversely affect a person’s quality of life and ability to function, and hinder their ability to form and maintain personal relationships.

The stigmas surrounding mental health issues can make it even harder for those who suffer to cope. This is why organizations and public figures are coming forward to show their support. Destigmatizing mental health disorders can help those who suffer from them confront their conditions and get the help they need.

Mental health professionals, whose advanced education equips them to be advocates for those struggling with such conditions, are an equally important of this effort.

What Are the Stigmas Surrounding Mental Health?

When a person breaks a bone, gets a concussion or is diagnosed with cancer, the public response is typically sympathetic. The majority of physical injuries and illnesses aren’t stigmatized. The same can’t always be said for mental health issues. Some of the main stigmas surrounding mental health issues include:

  • Prejudice and discrimination
  • Negative associations or feelings
  • The perception that those with mental illnesses are dangerous, incompetent, irrational or untrustworthy
  • The perception that those with mental illnesses are “broken” or “not normal”

The stigmas surrounding mental health disorders can come from a variety of sources, ranging from self-stigma to public stigma from external sources such as family members or classmates. Institutional stigma is another form, which involves systematic stigmatization at the policy or organizational level. Because of this, any approach to destigmatizing mental health must address those affected as well as the general public and the systemic response.

What Are the Effects of Mental Health Stigmatization?

When a person suffering from a mental health disorder is stigmatized, they are being ostracized and condemned for something they can’t control. These stigmas affect not only those with mental health disorders but their friends and family members as well. The adverse effects of mental health stigmatization include:

  • Worsened symptoms of existing mental health issues
  • Feelings of low self-esteem and loss of hope
  • Social isolation
  • Feelings of being misunderstood by friends and family
  • Difficulty starting or maintaining relationships
  • Increased difficulties in the workplace
  • Bullying or harassment
  • Reduced likelihood of seeking treatment

Deterring people with mental illnesses from seeking treatment is perhaps one of the most dangerous potential impacts of mental health stigmatization. Forgoing treatment can lead to disastrous consequences. According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 46% of those who commit suicide in the U.S. have a known mental health condition. Effectively destigmatizing mental health issues could lead more people to seek the help they need, potentially reducing the country’s suicide rate.

What Are the Keys to Destigmatizing Mental Health?

Clearly, mental health disorders are exacerbated by their stigmatization. This begs the question: “Why is there stigma around mental health disorders in the first place?” According to the American Psychiatric Association, much of the stigma stems from fear and ignorance. Misleading or inaccurate portrayals of mental illness in the media only make matters worse.

For those wondering how to reduce mental health stigma, some best practices include:

  • Having an open dialogue about mental health
  • Promoting education around mental health issues so they are better understood
  • Showing compassion and patience for those struggling with mental health
  • Encouraging equity between those who have a mental illness and those who don’t
  • Encouraging those who experience mental health struggles to seek professional help

When discussing and addressing mental health issues are normalized — as they are for physical injuries and illnesses — those struggling with mental health may feel more empowered to get the treatment they need.

The Role of Public Figures in Destigmatizing Mental Health

A number of public figures have used their massive platforms to openly discuss their own mental health challenges as a means to educate the public. Examples include:

  • Demi Lovato (singer), bipolar disorder
  • Wayne Brady (actor), depression
  • Michael Phelps (Olympic swimmer), depression
  • Amanda Seyfried (actress), OCD and anxiety
  • Naomi Osaka (professional tennis player), anxiety and depression
  • Lady Gaga (singer, actress), trauma-induced mental illness
  • Selena Gomez (singer, actress), bipolar disorder

By openly discussing their mental health issues, these figures are helping to increase public awareness and understanding. Their advocacy is aided by the fact that they have platforms that enable them to reach millions of people. Lady Gaga, for instance, has more than 84 million followers on Twitter alone.

When celebrities use their notoriety, influence and massive reach to educate and normalize discussing mental health issues, it plays a part in destigmatizing them. Additionally, it may lead others to seek support for their own mental health struggles.

In an article for Healthline, Allison Forti, Ph.D., associate professor and associate director of online counseling programs at Wake Forest University, said, “When a celebrity draws attention to their personal struggles with mental health, they spread awareness by providing an example of what mental health challenges psychologically, cognitively, and behaviorally look like. They also inspire the courage it takes to disclose their challenges and model the benefits of transparency — namely, they don’t have to be alone in their suffering, help is available, and pathways exist toward feeling better.”

Become an Advocate for Mental Health

Statistics show that mental health issues are far more common than most people realize. Anyone can be affected — even a celebrity or powerful public figure. Treatments and mental health professionals are available to help, but public and self-perception of mental health issues remain a roadblock. This is why it’s important to destigmatize mental health issues in society and the workplace through education and open discussion.

For those who want to be part of the solution, one way to make a difference is by pursuing an advanced education focused on mental health, such as Wake Forest University’s online Master of Arts in Counseling program. It features a clinical mental health concentration that prepares graduates to work closely with individuals who are challenged by mental health issues. Graduates of the program can go on to have careers as mental health counselors, substance abuse counselors and family/marriage counselors.

Take the first step toward a rewarding career in mental health with Wake Forest University.


Recommended Reading

How to Become a Marriage and Family Therapist: Why a Career as a Counselor Can Be Fulfilling

Tips for Coping with Morning Anxiety

Types of Eating Disorders and How Counselors Can Help



American Psychiatric Association, “Stigma, Prejudice and Discrimination Against People with Mental Illness”

American Psychological Association, “Kicking Stigma to the Curb”

Better Health Channel, “Stigma, Discrimination and Mental Illness”

CAMH, Addressing Stigma

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Suicide Rising Across the U.S.”

GoodTherapy, “6 Celebrities Working to Destigmatize Mental Health Concerns”

Healthline, “Shawn Mendes Taking a Break for Mental Health: Can Celebs Help Fight Stigma?”

Johns Hopkins Medicine, Mental Health Disorder Statistics

Medical News Today, “What Is Mental Health Stigma?”

Mile High Psychiatry, “10 Public Figures Removing the Stigma Around Mental Health”

National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health Facts in America

National Institute of Mental Health, Major Depression

National Institute of Mental Health, Mental Illness

Summa Health, “7 Ways to Overcome Mental Health Stigma”