Overcoming Stigma During Depression Awareness Month

Mental health awareness is the best way to educate people on the symptoms, treatments, and prevention methods of various mental illnesses, like Depression, which affects over 30% of all Americans, according to the latest federal data. This October is Depression Awareness Month. There are millions of reasons to get involved. For example, a 2022 Medicaid survey of behavioral health services shows nearly 14 million enrollees with a mental health disorder. Yet, only a fraction of people seek treatment for depression or other disorders. Why? Stigma is one reason.

What is Stigma?

A simple definition of stigma is when you or someone else views something in a negative light. When talking about mental health, you4According to the American Psychiatric Association, there are different types of stigma when discussing mental illness, like the following:

Public stigma

Public stigma refers to other people’s attitudes about mental illness or a mental health condition. Public stigmas involve stereotypes and discrimination. For example, if you or someone else thinks someone with depression would be happier if they exercised more. If you are rejected for a job because of depression, that is discrimination and a form of public stigma.


Self-stigma refers to your internal dialogue with yourself based on your thoughts and feelings about depression. Examples of self-stigma include telling yourself you are worthless or calling yourself a bad person because of depression. Thinking you don’t deserve help is another example.

Institutional stigma

Corporations, governments, universities, and other businesses can stigmatize mental illness, even if it is accidental. An example of institutional stigma is hiring someone with depression but not ensuring the work environment supports positive mental health. Other examples are when co-workers joke about your depression, or your supervisor calls you names related to depression. 

Perceived stigma

Perceived stigma is when you assume others think poorly of people with mental health disorders. This type of stigma is fear-based. You are so scared others will think of you poorly that you may avoid getting treatment.

Associative stigma

Stigma by association occurs when someone you care for has a mental health disorder. You think others will not like you because your family member or friend has depression. You may even avoid helping them get treatment for fear of what others will think of you.

Label Avoidance stigma

Label avoidance is one of the most harmful types of stigma. People do not seek help because they fear being labeled or known only for their mental illness. 

Healthcare Practitioner stigma

When a doctor, nurse, or any other healthcare practitioner allows stereotypes or prejudices to interfere with a person’s care. If a doctor tells a patient their depression symptoms are just a part of aging, implies a person with depression is a hypochondriac, or tells someone their lifestyle is the only reason for their symptoms, they are stigmatizing mental illness.

The Importance of Depression Awareness Month

Depression Awareness Month, or any awareness month, is supported by evidence of people becoming more aware of their health and taking more action to improve it. It is how you, your supporters, and experts can help the public on a large-scale health. There are multiple ways an awareness campaign can destigmatize depression. For example, it can 

  • Educate the public by spreading the truth about depression. Lack of knowledge about a subject makes it easier to form stereotypes and prejudices. Therefore, educating others about how common depression is, symptoms, and treatments can reduce stigmas.
  • Show how the media misrepresents depression. Many television shows, movies, and songs portray depressed people as suicidal, not leaving the bed for days or weeks, or crying all the time. While these can be symptoms of depression, they aren’t the only ones. Many people have functional depression, which is milder than major depression. They go to work every day, they meet all their responsibilities, and just by looking at them, you would never guess they were depressed. Teaching the public about the spectrum of symptoms can shine a different light on mental health.
  • Show people with depression that they are not alone. When people with depression share their stories with others, including how they got help for their disorder, they encourage others to do the same. Some self-stigmas can be reduced by letting others know they are not the only ones with depression. They need to know nothing is wrong with them and that depression is more common than they think.
  • Teach the language to use when destigmatizing depression. Some people were raised to believe that people with mental health disorders are equal to being “crazy,” “mentally off,” or other derogatory adjectives. They may not realize their language can prevent someone from receiving treatment.
  • Connect people with resources. Awareness months are a great time to help someone reach out to local resources regarding depression, including treatment centers, doctors, therapists, support groups, and education.

How You Can Overcome Depression Stigma

Stigma is a barrier that must be overcome. Participating in Depression Awareness Month can help, and it doesn’t require much. Things you can do include sharing your story with another person or multiple persons, publicly or privately. Who and how you share should be based on what makes you feel comfortable.

Sharing your story of depression gives a stigma less power. Be a role model to others who may be dealing with stigmas. Listen and acknowledge others sharing their stories of depression. Validate their feelings and support their efforts. Doing so will encourage others to offer support, too.

Working With a Treatment Facility

Trying to overcome stigma is not something you must do all on your own. Before sharing your story or implementing other awareness techniques, ensure you have the emotional support you need. Working with professionals in a treatment facility, like the Mental Health Center, you can get assistance, support, and a plan of action to reduce stigma. Likely, the facility will already have Depression Awareness Month activities planned. Please volunteer to help them get the message out to the public.