The impact of stigma on mental health care seeking behavior

One topic of discussion that has become salient recently is mental health. Whether it is in the discussion of the opiod crisis or the plague of mass shootings we, as a country, have faced – many politicians bring up the culprit of poor mental health. Many citizens agree that the mental health of our country is suffering. So, if so many are in agreement with this issue why are more people not seeking mental health care?

In a word – stigma. Generally speaking when we think therapy we think crazy, nuts, off our rocker and unstable. We look at people who we deem mentally ill as unreliable, immoral in the case of addiction and in some extreme cases as just bad people. These prejudices are just as oppressive as any others such as racism. We see someone in treatment and we would not want to hire them, rent them an apartment or give them the same opportunities that we would offer to someone we view as “normal”. As a society we see these prejudices and stigmas and we internalize them when considering mental health care. For fear of being found out, we choose not to seek treatment for what could be a debilitating mental issue. We do not equate depression to a broken leg due to the physicality but both are just as incapacitating.

In the work of Corrigan and his team, they set out to find a solution to the issue of stigma toward mental health. They found that three key elements are crucial to individuals seeking care and maintaining it. These are culture, knowledge and network. Knowledge is a key factor in changing minds on a variety of topics. The more a person knows about the topic, the greater their understanding is of those suffering. This in turn builds the encouragement and acceptance that is needed for individuals to seek treatment. Culture and community are another big factor. For some, their family can be an obstacle in seeking mental health and they would turn to other leaders in their community such as pastors, teachers and community leaders. Depending on the culture in their area, they may face the same stigma. Changing this could mean the difference between seeking mental health care or not. This also ties into networks. Networks can be friends, family or community members one is close with. Shaping the minds of those who are not seeking mental health care can indirectly but significantly impact the minds of those who are seeking treatment.


One potential solution brought up by many is forced, or coercive treatment. While this might seem like the best way, especially in criminal situations, it can drastically undermine the therapeutic process and create reactivity during treatment. The most effective way to implement change in regard to stigma and mental health is to educate and provide compassion for those who need to seek care.


Corrigan, P. W., Druss, B. G., & Perlick, D. A. (2014). The Impact of Mental Illness Stigma on Seeking and Participating in Mental Health Care. Psychological Science in the Public Interest,15(2), 37-70.

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