The Stigma of Mental Health & How to Reframe It: A DBT Perspective

By Lara Muster, Clinical Intern | September 13, 2023

We have made significant strides from the ancient times of mental illness deemed a cause for incarceration and the mid-1700s asylum era of overcrowded, poorly kept institutions. There is, however, still ample room for improvement and increased access to community-based care for individuals struggling with mental health. Nobody questions the medical attention needed for terminal cancer or cardiovascular disease, yet we still hear whispers about seeking help for mental health concerns. Despite the growing body of research supporting that poor mental health leads to poor physical health outcomes, we still face the widespread stigma of seeking mental health treatment. The stigma surrounding mental health can be exceptionally harmful to individuals and communities, creating further barriers for access to treatment and perpetuating harmful stereotypes. As mental health continues to be stigmatized in our society, we must explore ways to reframe the conversation and reduce the shame and judgment associated with seeking help. 

At Hillside, one of our main goals is to fight the stigma of mental health and promote awareness and understanding of mental illness. Through advocacy and the integration of evidence-based practice, we can empower individuals to prioritize their mental health and lead a life worth living. Hillside offers a variety of educational resources and outreach programs aimed at increasing awareness and understanding of mental health issues. They strive to make mental health treatment more accessible and less stigmatized, promoting the idea that seeking help for mental health issues is a normal and healthy choice. Hillside’s approach to fighting the stigma of mental health involves education, advocacy, and support aimed at increasing awareness and understanding of mental illness and promoting access to care.

Children and adolescents face a multitude of challenges in their daily lives, and when it comes to mental health, the added stigma associated with seeking help can make their struggles even more challenging. Studies show, 1 in 7 children and teens in the United States meet the criteria for treatable mental health diagnoses, yet half of those youth do not receive treatment from a mental health professional. The stigma surrounding mental health sets them up for potential failure and can further exacerbate their mental health issues. 

The practice of mindfulness, the core of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), can play a crucial role in addressing the stigma surrounding mental health, particularly for children and adolescents. By helping youth to non-judgmentally observe and describe their thoughts, feelings, and sensations, mindfulness can empower children to recognize and accept negative attitudes and beliefs about mental illness without shame and self-blame. Mindfulness helps individuals to acknowledge that the stigma surrounding mental health is a societal problem, not a personal failure, and empowers them to seek the resources needed to lead healthier and more fulfilling lives.

Interpersonal effectiveness can be a powerful tool in reframing the stigma that surrounds mental health. By effectively communicating our needs and advocating for change, we can challenge negative attitudes and beliefs about mental illness and promote understanding and acceptance. The way we talk about mental health matters, and by using effective communication and interpersonal skills, we can work towards reducing stigma and creating a more validating environment. The GIVE skill in DBT involves being gentle, interested, validating, and using an easy manner while communicating with others. GIVE can be used to promote open communication about mental health and reduce the shame and embarrassment associated with seeking help. The FAST skill in DBT involves being fair, not apologizing excessively, sticking to one’s values, and being truthful. FAST can be used to advocate for oneself and others with no apologies when faced with stigmatizing attitudes or behaviors related to mental health. The knowledge and use of interpersonal effectiveness skills can support the process of reframing the stigma behind mental health and create a more accepting and supportive society for children and adolescents.

Reframing the stigma surrounding mental health is imperative for individuals and communities. At Hillside, we recognize the importance of reframing the stigma of mental health for children and adolescents. We provide education and advocacy to promote change and reduce the negative impact of mental health stigma in society. It is important to acknowledge that the stigma surrounding mental health comes from a lack of understanding, and it will take increased advocacy and psychoeducation to promote change. With the support of evidence-based therapeutic approaches, such as DBT, we can reduce the stigma associated with mental health and create a world where everyone has access to the care and resources needed to lead a life worth living.

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