Stigma and mental health

stigma-columnFor people with mental health issues, their struggle is twofold. First they are dealing with real psychological symptoms that have an impact on their daily lives. Second, they are challenged by the stereotypes and labels that result from others’ misperceptions about mental illness. The impact of the latter is significantly harmful and can cause:

  • Hesitance to seek help
  • A lack of understanding and rejection by peers, family or friends
  • Fear of disclosure
  • Limited opportunities for jobs, social activities or academic experiences
  • Bullying and/or harassment
  • Alienation
  • Discrimination

But we, as a CSU community, can create change.

This spring, the Associated Students of Colorado State University launched a media campaign focused on reducing stigma on campus. With posters and other media featuring CSU students talking about their mental health conditions, the campaign had three objectives:

  1. support a culture shift at Colorado State University that creates an environment that is more supportive of students dealing with mental health conditions;
  2. reduce stigma associated with mental health conditions and humanize students who are dealing with mental health conditions; and
  3. challenge students and other viewers to re-conceptualize the ways they think about mental health conditions and subsequently alter their behaviors to reduce stigma.

Efforts such as this, and commitment by CSU students, faculty and staff can have a positive impact on the campus culture. As individuals, there are many steps we can take:

  • Don’t label or judge people with a mental illness. Treat them with the respect and dignity as you would anyone else. Don’t make assumptions about what they can or can’t accomplish.
  • Use respectful language. Focus on the person, not the illness. Never use derogatory terms and correct people that do so.
  • Talk openly about your own experience of mental illness. The more it is hidden, the more people continue to believe that it is shameful and needs to be concealed.
  • Provide professional development opportunities. Include mental illness in conversations about diversity and foster an inclusive work environment. The CSU Health Network can provide professional development opportunities for your department or group.
  • Get to know people with personal experience with mental illness. Understanding others’ challenges gives you perspective.
  • Become an advocate. Speak out against stigma. Take it upon yourself to challenge the stereotypes and teach others about mental illness.
  • Encourage help-seeking. There are many resources on campus that can help students and staff struggling with mental health conditions.

By playing our part to fight stigma, we can support each other. After all, we are Rams. And Rams take care of Rams.

For more information about mental health initiatives at CSU, contact Janelle Patrias, MSW, CSU Health Network manager of Mental Health Initiatives, or log on to the website.


  • Facts about Stigma and Mental Illness in Diverse Communities. NAMI. 2015
  • Mental health: Overcoming the stigma of mental illness. Mayo Clinic. 2014
  • Understanding the impact of stigma on people with mental illness. World Psychiatry. 2002