Stigma and Mental Health

Seeking mental health services does not mean you're crazy.

Posted Oct 25, 2012

Mental health difficulties do not discriminate across cultures or racial backgrounds. There is potential for everyone in society to be impacted by mental health concerns. Statistics show that approximately 26 percent of adults and 20 percent of children experience diagnosable mental health conditions each year. However, few individuals utilize the needed services when it comes to seeking treatment from professionals such as a psychologist or therapist.  In a recent article, Dr. Steven Hendlin alludes to the fact that drug therapy or medication if often the first line of treatment for many because of their views towards psychotherapy. Among racial/ethnic minority populations (e.g., African American or Hispanic American), there is a higher lack of help-seeking. Broman (2012) notes that even after controlling for factors such as health insurance and socioeconomic status (SES) ethnic minority groups still have a higher unmet need than non-Hispanic Whites.

There are a number of reasons why there is underutilization of mental health services. One of the major reasons is stigma. As a society, we often use the terms “mental illness” and “mental health” interchangeably. This may be one reason why their remains to be a huge stigma towards using mental health services. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is a difference between mental illness and mental health. Mental illness is described as a condition or disorder that is characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior associated with distress and impairment in functioning. On the other hand, mental health is a state of well-being in which the individual realizes their own abilities and can cope with the daily stresses of life. Given societies ‘view towards seeking treatment it is important that we begin to distinguish between mental health and mental illness more often to decease negative views towards individuals who suffer in an effort to make people feel more open about getting help. We should all strive for mental health as we do for physical health.

There are also other reasons why people don’t use mental health services. Numerous studies show that variables such as SES, ethnicity, affordability of services, attitudes, and stigma promote or prevent seeking mental health treatment (e.g., Broman, 2012; Turner & Liew, 2010). Given the burden associated with poor mental health it is important that we address this public health issue. For example, mental illness is associated with increased health problems (e.g., heart disease and obesity) and substance abuse (CDC, 2012). Furthermore, when children are not treated for mental health concerns they are at a greater risk for difficulties later in life as an adult.  Research has found that untreated mental illness during childhood may be a risk factor for suicide, substance abuse, involvement with the correctional system, failure to complete high school, and adult psychopathology. Therefore, it is imperative that more public education occurs to stress the importance of mental health. Dr. Hendlin states that “hundreds of studies have found that psychotherapy is an effective way to help people make positive changes in their lives without the need for medication.” This highlights the importance of addressing the stigma around treatment seeking. Recently, the American Psychological Association developed a digital campaign to discuss that psychotherapy works. The website offers fact sheets and information to better understand therapy and how it can be helpful.

There are a few questions you may ask yourself when deciding if mental health services are appropriate for you or your child. Below are a few things to consider when deciding if you should seek professional help:

  • Are you or your child experiences difficulties or concerns that disrupt your daily life?
  • Do you or your child feel more sad than usual?
  • Are you feeling overwhelmed with life?
  • Do you have problems focusing at school or work?
  • Do you get so emotional that you want to hurt yourself or others?
  • Are you experiencing frequent worries or anxiety?

If your answer is “yes” to any of those question. Psychotherapy may be helpful. Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor to ask for a referral or to contact a local mental health provider. Remember “your health begins with mental health!”

Follow me on Twitter @DrEarlTurner for daily post on psychology, mental health, and parenting. Feel free to join my Facebook group, “Get Psych’d with Dr. T” to discuss today's blog, or to ask further questions about this posting.

Copyright Erlanger A. Turner, Ph.D. 2012


Broman, C. (2012). Race difference in the receipt of mental health services among young adults. Psychological Services, 9, 38-48

Turner, E.A., & Liew, J. (2010). Children's adjustment and child mental health services use: The role of parents' attitudes and personal service use in an upper middle class sample. Community Mental Health Journal, 46, 3, 231-240.

National Institute of Mental Health (2012, October 23). Retrieved from

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2012, October 24). Mental Health Basics. Retrieved from