Mental Health - Let's Talk About the Stigma of Mental Illness

adult children of parents with mental illness mental health mental health coaching Sep 01, 2022
mental health, inner dynamics, coaching


Mental illness is one of the most stigmatized topics in our society. The social context and the perception of the public with social disapproval often result in mentally ill people being considered abnormal, incompetent, dangerous, and unpredictable.

Stigma is a global issue that has historical, cultural, and sociological roots. Mental illness is stigmatic in nearly every society, culture, or nation on the planet as a result of the social context and public perception. Mentally ill individuals are frequently regarded as strange, ineffective, hazardous, unpredictable, and weak in character.

Tragically, stigma does not just affect the patient with mental illness but also extends to the affiliated family members. As children of parents with mental illnesses (COPMI) such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and multiple personality disorders, we are all too familiar with this stigma. Most or all of us have experienced stigma in one way or the other and it had a profound impact on us that might last until today.

It's unfortunate that mental illness is still stigmatized by not just the general public, but also by some professional health care workers. This starts to change slowly as renowned clinics like the Mayo Clinic raise awareness about overcoming the stigma of mental illness.


It's long overdue to raise awareness of mental health issues, challenge people's attitudes about them and shift people's perceptions of them.

In this blog, we will be discussing the stigma of mental illness and its effects on those who suffer from it. We will also be providing some tips on how to deal with stigma if you or someone you know is affected by it.



How common are mental illnesses?


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States, mental illnesses are among the most prevalent health conditions in the country.


More than 50% of people will be diagnosed with a mental illness or psychiatric condition at some point throughout their life. In any given year, 1 in 5 Americans will suffer from a mental disorder. 1 in 5 children, either currently or at some point during their life, have had a seriously debilitating mental illness. Approximately 1 in 25 individuals has a severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression.


What is stigma?


Definition of stigma

Oxford Language Dictionary defines stigma as "a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. Stigma has been defined also as "a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stigma is something that takes away from a person's dignity and worth." In other words, it's a negative label that is placed on someone or something.


Definition of stigma in relation to mental illnesses

The term "stigma" was first used in relation to mental illness by Erving Goffman in his 1963 book "Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity." In it, Goffman defined stigma as an attribute that is deeply discrediting and serves to disqualify a person from full societal acceptance. In other words, stigma creates an us-versus-them divide between those who are seen as normal and those who are not. This divide can result in discrimination, exclusion, and mistreatment. 

Mental illness stigma has been shown to result in poorer health outcomes, lower quality of life, and increased suicide rates. It also leads to poor relationships, social isolation, reduced employment opportunities, and difficulty accessing services. In short, mental illness stigma is a major barrier to recovery. 


The Stigma of Mental Illness


When it comes to mental illness and psychiatric disorders, stigma can be seen in the way that society views and treats those who suffer from it. Mental illness stigma can lead to discrimination in many areas of life, such as employment, housing, and education. It can also make it difficult for people to seek help and treatment for fear of being judged or misunderstood by family, friends and the community.

The stigma of mental illness is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. The effects of stigma can be devastating for those who suffer from mental illness, and it can prevent them from getting the help and treatment they need. Stigma also prevents people from talking about mental illness, which can make it harder to break down the stigma. This applies not only to the patients themselves but also to their families and especially their children.



Different kinds of stigma

There are many different types and classifications of the stigma that can be associated with mental illness. Some of the most common are:


Social stigma or experienced stigma


Experienced stigma occurs when a person is regarded as odd or shunned by society because of their connection to mental illness, either as a patient or a directly connected family member such as a spouse or children. People see those with mental illness as less than human or inferior to others. This is the most apparent type of stigma and takes place when someone is judged differently from the norm and rejected by society.

Experienced stigma happens when someone has been the subject of prejudice, bad treatment, and hostile behavior as a result of their association with mental illness. This may include being overlooked for a position or being treated badly by others. It can also result in having unmet emotional needs. This type of stigma can lead to stress, psychological problems, unhealthy relations, and social isolation. It might cause people to be discriminated against in areas such as housing, employment, and education.


Anticipated stigma


When a child or adult child of a parent with mental illness is anticipating stigma, it's because he/she anticipates being discriminated against or treated badly due to the mental illness connection. This can lead to anxiety and dread about how others might react if they learn of the parent's condition.

Associated stigma is when someone is discriminated against or treated negatively because of their association with someone who has a mental illness. This fear can be based on fear of hostile behaviors from others, fear of negative attitudes, fear of being labeled as different, or fear of the mentally ill parent being described as bad. Another fear is that others will lack understanding of mental illness. Rejection and ridicule are also possible fears that fester in the child and adolescent. 


Self-stigma or affiliated/internalized stigma


Self-stigma, also known as affiliated/internalized stigma, occurs when a person with mental illness internalizes the prejudice and grows to believe that they are inferior or undeserving of assistance. This might cause low self-esteem and make it more difficult to address this problem and get help.

A person may believe that they have been labeled with a mental illness because of something that has happened to them. This can occur when someone internalizes society's negative attitudes and beliefs about mental illnesses and believes them to be true about themselves.

In 9 out of 10 cases, it is not just the patients who face stigma and prejudice. Their family members are also exposed to stigma, known as "stigma by association" or "family stigma." Worse yet, it might be considered a form of "contamination" stigma since the public generally sees their children as being contaminated by their parental mental illness. Spouses and children frequently become blamed for their relatives' illnesses by their extended families, friends, and community. Family distancing can lead to self-imposed social limitations, delayed treatment seeking, and lowered quality of life.



Children who are ashamed or embarrassed to have a mentally ill relative sometimes refer to the condition as a family stigma. This might cause them to withdraw from other family members, feeling compelled to conceal their condition from others.

The majority of these children believe themselves to be tainted and inferior. It produces fear and self-reflexive sensitivity in children who are aware of their position as members of an at-risk group for developing a mental illness. This can lead to low self-esteem, shame, worthlessness, and despair. those massive psychological impact factors can also make the children more susceptible to getting a psychiatric disorder later in life.


Structural stigma


Structural stigma is discrimination against people with mental illness that's embedded in laws and policies and carried out by organizations, institutes, or programs. For instance, housing laws may make it difficult for people with mental illness to find a place to live.


How stigma affects mental health


Stigma is a major problem for people with mental illness and can negatively affect mental health in a number of ways.


Stigma has the potential to have many negative consequences, including:

  • Reduced self-confidence
  • Decreased self-esteem and self-worth
  • Hopelessness
  • Increased psychiatric symptoms and depressive disorders
  • Poorer mental and physical health
  • Difficulties to establish healthy social relationships
  • Fear of asking for help or treatment
  • Decrease in the chance of continuing treatment
  • Lack of understanding by family, friends, colleagues, community or others
  • Social isolation
  • Fewer opportunities for work, school or social activities
  • Increased difficulties at work
  • Difficulties in finding housing
  • Bullying, physical and emotional abuse or harassment
  • Health insurance plans that don't cover mental illness treatment properly
  • The belief that you'll never succeed at anything or that your situation will never improve.



Stigma can also make it difficult for people with mental illness to ask for medical intervention such as psychiatric treatment, and access to services and support. In some cases, stigma can even lead to an increased risk of suicide.

According to a 2017 research of over 200 persons with mental illness that lasted two years, greater self-stigma was linked to poorer recovery from mental illness after one and two years.

An editorial in the Lancet notes that the impacts of stigma are widespread, affecting political engagement, willingness to give to charities, local services, and research funding. This falls clearly under the problem of structural stigma which has a wide-ranging negative impact on the awareness, treatment, and research funding of mental illness.



Tips for dealing with stigma


Here are some tips for dealing with stigma:


-Talk to someone who understands what you're going through. It can be helpful to talk to someone who has experience with mental illness and can offer support and understanding.


-Show compassion for people who suffer from mental illness and practice self-compassion for yourself. It's no shame to have a parent or other family relation with mental illness. Everybody can get affected by mental problems.


-Be open with treatment. There is no shame to be suffering from a mental illness or having a parent who is mentally ill. Just as it is normal to seek treatment for physical diseases such as fractures, diabetes, or cancer, it should become normal to get treated for mental disorders, too.


-Challenge stigma when you see it. If you hear someone making negative comments about mental illness, be brave and dare to speak up and challenge their beliefs.


- Seek professional help. If you're struggling with mental illness, don't hesitate to seek help from a qualified professional. There are many resources available to help you get the support you need.



Reducing stigma


There are a number of ways to reduce stigma, such as:


-Raising awareness: special days or months such as World Mental Health Day on October 10 or Mental Health Awareness Month in May are very helpful to bring the spotlight on the topic of mental health and the associated factors and problems and garner support for medical treatment of mental disorders


-Social media campaign: social media can be a useful tool to spread awareness and information about mental diseases


- Education: Providing accurate information and sharing facts and experiences about mental disorders and illnesses can help dispel myths, misconceptions, and negative comments 


-Mind your language: the conscious choice of appropriate words can help to reduce stigma by avoiding words such as crazy, mad, or other derogative terms


-Encourage equality between physical and mental illness: it's normal to provide treatment for physical ailments such as fractures and cancer. People with mental illness should be treated in the same respectful way.


- Contact: Spending time with people who have mental illness can help reduce stigma.


- Personal stories: Sharing personal stories about mental illness can help increase understanding and reduce prejudices



How can mental health coaching help in overcoming stigma?


Understanding mental health coaching

Mental health coaching is working with a client and a mental health coach to discover the means to improve their life. It's the most advanced form of life coaching that focuses on assisting customers in improving their mental well-being and mental health as well as addressing any concerns they might have. This may range from setting and achieving personal goals to enhancing relationships to learning how to cope with anxiety or non-clinical depression.

The coach will help the client explore their thoughts and feelings, understand their triggers, and develop new coping mechanisms. Timely intervention can prevent medical treatment of the client.

Mental health coaches work to meet the personal needs of the client, using the experience most relevant to them in order to not only help clients achieve their goals but also function at a high level beyond that goal.

A mental health coach differs from a therapist in that their objective isn't to treat mental illness. Rather, mental health coaching is a specialized technique that assists individuals in developing positive coping skills and achieving their objectives.



Benefits of mental health coaching for COPMI

There are many benefits of mental health coaching for children of parents with mental illness (COPMI) to overcome experienced, anticipated, and self-stigma.


Mental health coaching can be an excellent resource for COPMI to overcome stigma because it is:

-Tailored to the individual

-Focuses on developing positive coping skills

-Can be used to achieve a wide variety of goals


Mental health coaching can help COPMI in multiple ways.

Improved self-confidence

One of the main goals of coaching is to help the client develop a more positive outlook. This increased self-confidence can help COPMI feel better about themselves and their situation. This helps to stand up against stigmatizing comments and actions.


Increased knowledge

Mental health coaching can help COPMI learn about different types of stigmas, how stigma affects mental health, and how to cope with stigma. This increased knowledge can help reduce the negative impact of stigma.


Feel supported

Oftentimes, COPMI have not had any form of professional help during their childhood or adolescence. This might lead to buried traumas in the subconscious mind. However, most adult children and families are unaware of these factors.

Mental health coaching can be useful in providing support as you make positive changes your life journeys.


Improved emotional processing and regulation

COPMI often grew up with a lot of stigmas. As a result, they can develop problems with emotional processing and regulation which can lead to a higher risk of developing mental disorders themselves.


Some common challenges include:

- Having difficulty understanding and expressing emotions

- Having difficulty regulating emotions

- Increased anxiety and stress levels

- Increased risk of developing mental health disorders


Mental health coaching can help you to improve your emotional processing. If you are struggling with your mental health, it can be difficult to cope with your emotions. A coach can help you to understand your emotions and to develop healthy coping strategies. This can lead to improved mental health as you learn how to manage your emotions healthily.


Developing new coping skills

As the child of a mentally ill parent, you may have experienced a lot of suffering and trauma in your life. It is critical to discover healthy methods to manage these feelings so that they don't control your life.


Some helpful coping mechanisms include:

-Talk to somebody who understands and can offer support, such as qualified health professionals like mental health coaches, counselors, or support group

-Write down your thoughts and feelings in a journal

-Engage in activities that make you feel good, such as spending time outdoors, listening to music, or spending time with friends or family members who make you feel loved and supported

-Practice self-care, such as mindfulness, relaxation techniques, stress management, getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and exercising regularly

-Avoid alcohol and drugs, as they can make your problems worse


Setting and achieving their goals

One of the benefits of working with a mental health coach is that they can help you to set goals and make positive changes in your life. If you are struggling with your mental health, it can be difficult to know where to start or what changes to make. A coach can help you to identify goals, plan a strategy and create a plan to achieve them. They can also provide support and guidance as you implement changes in your life. Making positive changes can lead to improved mental health and a greater sense of well-being.


Improve the mental well-being

Mental health coaching can help COPMI to develop the skills necessary to cope with and manage their mental illness. This can lead to improved mental well-being overall. It can help COPMI to understand their thoughts and feelings about stigma. This is very important for COPMI, who often face difficult choices. With a mental health coach, they can develop a plan to work through stigma instead of being controlled by it.


Making peace with the past

Special programs such as the "Making Peace With Your Past" online course with private coaching sessions help to create a better understanding of stigma, the various types of stigmas, and how to counter them. The course tackles the major pain points and challenges that adult children of parents with mental illness suffer from since their childhood. Geared towards accessing and processing the traumatic experiences that are deeply buried in the subconscious mind through inner dynamic techniques, processing those burdens and healing them helps to create a stronger and more resilient personality who can withstand stigma.





Stigma is a negative attitude or belief toward someone based on their membership in a particular group. Mental illness stigma can take many forms, from discrimination in the workplace to social isolation and exclusion. It can make it difficult for people with mental illness to access services and support and can lead to poorer mental health outcomes.


Mental illness stigma is a major problem. It can lead to social isolation, reduced employment opportunities, and difficulty accessing services. Stigma can also result in poorer health outcomes, including an increased risk of suicide. There are things you can do to reduce the stigma, such as talking openly about mental illness and seeking support from others who understand what you're going through. And remember that you are not alone - millions of people around the world are living with mental illness or with a family member who is mentally ill.


Stigma can negatively affect mental health in a number of ways. It can lead to social isolation and reduced employment opportunities, which can in turn lead to poorer mental health. stigma can also make it difficult for people with mental illness to access services and support. In some cases, stigma can even lead to an increased risk of suicide.


Mental health coaching can be a valuable tool for dealing with stigma, especially for adult children of parents with mental illness. A mental health coach can provide support and guidance as you navigate the challenges of mental illness. They can also help you to find new ways of coping with stigma and offer practical advice on how to reduce its impact on your life.


Stigma is a major problem, but it doesn't have to be a life sentence. With the right support, you can overcome stigma and live a happy and fulfilling life.


If you’re struggling with the challenges of being an adult child of a parent with mental illness, know that you’re not alone. Mental health coaching can help you manage your challenges and reach your goals. If you’re ready to take the first step toward healing, contact a mental health coach today.


If you have any further questions about stigma or the "Making Peace With Your Past" online course, feel free to reach out to me.



Dr. Margit is a Certified Mental Health Coach specializing in Inner Dynamics, Professional Certified Coach by the International Coaching Federation ICF, Master Life Coach, NLP Master, Certified Mindfulness Practitioner, award-winning author, sought-after speaker, and falcon doctor.

She's passionate about helping businesswomen with childhood parental mental illness trauma by supporting them by "Making peace with your past" online course with private coaching sessions and creating a new positive, empowered, resilient, and authentic YOU in three months.

Dr. Margit hosts a free biweekly mindfulness and meditation group called "Peaceful Mind Group" that is delivered virtual via zoom.

Dr. Margit believes that coaching with pets and horses opens the way to a new kind of empowerment and healing. Her award-winning and inspirational book Your Pet, Your Pill™: 101 Inspirational Stories About How Pets Lead You to a Happy, Healthy and Successful Life enchants, motivates, enlightens, and fascinates the readers with stories full of inspiration and positivity. 

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Dr. Margit's books

Your Pet, Your Pill®. 101 Inspirational Stories About How Pets Lead You to a Happy, Healthy and Successful Life

Your Pet, Your Pill® Workbook. A Self-Discovery Guide About How Pets Lead You to a Happy, Healthy and Successful Life

Practical Handbook of Falcon Husbandry and Medicine

Modern Veterinary Practice Management. A Systematic Approach to Creating and Operating a Successful Veterinary Practice