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  • Writer's pictureAlana Hunt

Mental Health Stigma & Discrimination

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as, “a state of complete well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” Nearly one in five adults in the United States live with a mental illness however, many do not receive treatment because of the stigma surrounding mental health disorders, and social determinants that create inadequate access to healthcare due to economic, geographic, and/or

linguistic factors. A person’s ability to access health services has a profound effect on every aspect of his or her health, and it is essential for health organizations to minimize treatment barriers.

Untreated mental health conditions can adversely affect workplace performance, relationships, and even participation within the community. Despite economic prosperity and better access to education, people with mental health conditions experience discrimination and stigma in all spheres of life throughout the United States. As you’re reading this, let's remember what a stigma is and how it leads to discrimination:

  • The Mayo Clinic describes a stigma as when an individual views a person in a negative way, because of a distinguishing characteristic or personal trait that is thought to be, or actually is, a disadvantage. Discrimination may be obvious and direct or even subtle or unintentional. When discrimination is direct, someone may make a negative remark about mental illness. When it is indirect, someone may avoid a person with a mental illness because they assume the person is unstable, violent, or dangerous.

Those who have mental health disorders also often self-stigmatize themselves, internalizing the prejudices and the negative stereotypes associated with having a mental health illness. This prevents individuals from seeking treatment and potentially accelerates those suffering toward poverty, decreasing the health status of the United States. A lack of mental health treatment can impact the United States in a variety of ways but can cause a severe impact on economic development, as untreated mental health disorders represent more than 10 billion days of lost work annually, which is the equivalent of $1 trillion USD per year.

How do we eliminate the barriers preventing those with mental health disorders from seeking treatment? Here are two ideas:

  • Integrate mental health programs within primary care services. Mental health services delivered within an integrated setting can be instrumental in minimizing stigma and discrimination, potentially improving overall health outcomes. The Cherokee Health Systems, a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in Tennessee, adopted the unified primary care and behavioral health model, which expanded community mental health centers at 22 sites. Within these health centers, case managers work with adults and children with serious mental illnesses, and chronic physical health problems. This system enables collaboration where treatment teams can work together and provide the treatment necessary to the patient. Integrated care models provide the opportunity to increase the access to mental health services by providing a more “acceptable” location to individuals and communities.

  • Promote and offer Mental Health First Aid Classes. Have you ever heard of a Mental Health Aid Class? These programs are designed for anyone, just like a CPR class is, but are created to increase awareness and reduce stigma around mental illness. The class will provide the students with training on how to increase the recognition of signs and symptoms of mental health problems and provide initial help to someone who may be suffering. Find more information here:

At THRIVE, we believe deeply in the need to integrate mental health into primary care delivery systems. We work with FQHCs, health systems, and other organizations to maximize the wellness impact those healthcare providers have on their patients.

Alana Hunt

Senior Consultant



Holtz, C. (2022). Chapter 8. In Global Health Care: Issues and policies (4th ed.).

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2017, May). Mental health: Overcoming the stigma of mental illness. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from

World Health Organization. (2022, June) Mental health: Strengthening our response. Retrieved from

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Dec 06, 2022

As a senior government manager for 30 plus years I've observed no greater challenges in today's work environment than the increase in mental health issues. Mental health should certainly be integrated into the modality of healthcare and no longer ostracize healthcare customers seeking support.

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