You can fight stigma in many ways:

Be positive. Respond to people who have a mental illness as individuals. Learn about the person and deal with him/her on the basis of your knowledge, not your assumptions.

Learn. The more you know, the more you can help. Listen to people with mental illnesses. Understand they have the same basic needs and human rights as everyone else. Education is the key to eliminating stigma and discrimination.

Change your language. Words shape perceptions. Describe the person first, not the illness. (For example, Sue is a person living with schizophrenia, or a person who has schizophrenia; not a schizophrenic.) The illness is only part of who that person is. Avoid using disparaging language – “lunatics,” “crazies,” etc. — when referring to people with mental illnesses.

Support people. Support the efforts of people with mental illnesses to reenter society – to obtain meaningful work and decent affordable housing. Give people recovering from a mental illness what they need most: a chance.

Speak up. Don’t be afraid to let others know of your mental illness or the mental illness of a loved one. As long as mental illness remains hidden, many people will believe it to be a shameful thing that needs to be concealed. Speaking up about mental illness can be empowering for individuals with a mental illness by helping to relieve the “internalized stigma” they feel.

Demand change. Policies that perpetuate stigma and discrimination – poorer health insurance coverage of mental illness than physical illness; limited funding for research into the causes and treatments of mental illness; inadequate budgets for mental health services – can be changed if enough people insist on change. Contact your elected representatives.

Organize. Bring together people in your community that are leaders – local business, faith leaders, police officers, the media – and educate them on how mental health affects them and the community. (A great way to really get your point across.)

(Some material for this section was taken from Ten Things You Can Do To Fight Stigma by Otto F. Wahl, Ph.D.)