What is stigma?

Stigma, a socially constructed perception that can bring with it shame, discomfort, discrimination, or disapproval, is one of the biggest barriers to open conversations with our students about mental health.

Stigmatization of mental health can lead to blaming those with issues, student disempowerment, lack of support from family, peers, faculty or staff, hiding possible concerns, and not seeking resources.

Stigma can do more than just prevent a student from seeking help or labeling the person. It can (re)label mental illness which causes a feedback loop and can do damage not just to the student but also to the community.

How can we end stigma?

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) suggests these 9 steps to reducing stigma in your life:

  • Talk Openly About Mental Health
  • Educate Yourself and Others
  • Be Conscious of Language
  • Encourage Equality Between Physical and Mental Illness
  • Show Compassion for Those with Mental Illness
  • Choose Empowerment Over Shame
  • Be Honest About Treatment
  • Let the Media Know When They’re Being Stigmatizing
  • Don’t Harbor Self-Stigma

What can we do on campus?

What are specific actions we can take on campus to reduce stigma?

  • Include a mental health statement like this on your class syllabus or create class assignments that involve discussion of mental health and/or illness.
  • Advocate for professional development regarding mental health. Most college presidents already say it’s important and deserving of resources!
  • Encourage a stigma-free pledge among your department, division, or institution.
  • Create stigma-free zones much like safe zones so students know who they can talk to without fear or shame.
  • Share information about creating a student group on campus and offer to be the advisor. Make it easy for students to start their own conversation.
  • Talk to your students. Reference mental health and illness as a part of whole student wellness. Normalize the conversation.
  • I repeat, talk to your students. Don’t refer students counseling if you can have a conversation. You add stigma by equating crying or frustration to the requirement of counseling.
  • After you talk, just listen.

Stigma can mean our students will get sicker right in front of us. But we can change that.

-Wilmington University faculty

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