Mental Health and Stigma

Nearly 1 in 5 adults in the United States live with a mental health issue. Known as a silent epidemic, in many cases, no one can tell if you or a loved one is battling symptoms — but that fear that someone may notice, can put even more pressure on someone already struggling.  

Mental health issues may affect your mood, thinking and behavior. It may feel like you need to find solutions on your own but it’s important to know that you’re not alone. There is help available. 


There are many myths that can surround the topic of mental health, which may lead to misunderstandings or negative views. This is known as stigma.

Stigma may occur when others:

  • Don't understand the mental health issue or think it's a laughing matter
  • Don't realize that a mental health issue is an illness that can be treated
  • Think that a mental health issue is "your own fault" or that you can "get over it"
  • Are afraid they might someday have a mental health problem themselves
  • Are nervous around you

Beyond what others think, it may be difficult to shake feelings of shame or guilt about having a mental health issue. You may not want an employer or even your friends to know. This is called "self-stigma," and it may keep you from getting the treatment you may need.

Breaking the stigma

Giving yourself respect and patience can be an important part of your recovery. Try to remember that there’s nothing to feel ashamed of. A mental health issue is much like a physical illness. You wouldn’t shy away from seeing a doctor if you broke your arm, so why should your mental health be any different?

It’s important to be honest with yourself and with others. While it may be difficult to share, confiding in friends and family may provide you with the support you need. When you help others understand mental health issues, it can help them get past their negative views and lead with compassion.

Here are some ways you can help others better understand:

  • Let them know that your mental health problem is a medical issue that can — and should — be treated.
  • Talk about your recovery. This will help them understand the challenges you face. 
  • Show them your strengths and talents. Don't let your mental health issue keep you from going after things you want to do.
  • Remember that "you are the message." You can show how you want to be treated by the way you act. Treating yourself with respect can set an example for everyone.
  • Accept that you may need breaks during activities. Your symptoms may make it harder to focus for longer periods of time.
  • Work with your family and your doctor to set goals you can reach. Let them know what changes you want to make in your life.

Stigma and employment

For many people, work is an important part of their lives and identities. Being a part of the workforce can help you feel better about yourself and your future through connection with others, needed income and opportunities for growth and development.

Because of the stigma surrounding mental health, it may be challenging to get the job you want. Ask for advice and support from your mental health care team and they may be able to help you navigate how to talk about these issues with your employer.

If you’re already fully employed, mental health issues may add to your stress at work or make you feel burnt out at a faster pace. Getting treatment to help manage your mental health may improve your ability to focus on your job, without as much distraction.

Finding resources

If you’re looking for other assistance, organizations like local job services, employment offices or state health and welfare offices are available to help you find a place to live or work. Your doctor or mental health care team may also be able to connect you with resources that may help you find housing.

Mental health issues can often be linked with substance use disorders, which adds additional difficulties on an already challenging situation. If you are struggling with this, talk to your doctor about getting drug or alcohol treatment. Your health care team may also be able to help with these issues and how it may affect your loved ones. Getting help is an important step to recovery. UnitedHealthcare advocates are available to help you through this process, from answering your questions about mental health to finding treatment and resources through private online and phone support. If you’re a UnitedHealthcare member, you can be connected to resources by calling the number on the back of your insurance card. 

Legal concerns

It’s important to know and understand that if you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health issue, you have the same rights as other citizens. Most states and certain health care groups have a bill of rights for those with mental health issues, which include the right to privacy (or confidentiality) with respect to your illness and treatment plan, plus the right to treatment that places the fewest possible restrictions on your lifestyle.

Still, those with mental health issues may have symptoms that make decision-making a challenge. It may be a good idea to prepare legal documents, when you’re experiencing few or no symptoms, to help in case this happens. There are a few different legal directives you may want to consider, including:

  • An advance directive tells your wishes for treatment when you have severe symptoms.
  • A durable power of attorney for health care says who will be in charge of making decisions when you are not able to make them for yourself. This document can be very helpful if your symptoms become so bad that you need someone you trust to make treatment decisions for you.
  • A power of attorney lets you choose someone to help you deal with money if your symptoms keep you from doing this on your own. Find someone you trust to co-sign financial documents, such as credit card applications or mortgages, to protect yourself financially while you are having symptoms.