One in four Americans lives with a mental health or substance use disorder. 

The stigma experienced by individuals living with a mental health or substance use disorder is one of the biggest barriers to treatment and recovery. When we stigmatize, we view others through a lens of false assumptions, focus solely on a diagnosis, and reduce a person to a label. Stigma undermines relationships and blocks access to employment, housing, and quality medical care.

Are you seeing clearly?


What is stigma?

Stigma is a predetermined attitude or belief about an individual or a group of people that often results in isolation, lack of opportunity, and discrimination. Stigmatizing behaviors can be subtle or blatant, intentional or unintentional, but in all its forms, stigma is damaging. Stigma is not simply a negative attitude or lack of “political correctness.” It can have life-threatening consequences.

Whom does stigma affect?

Approximately 1 in 3 mental health consumers in the U.S. has been turned down for a job once their mental health problems were disclosed.
— Heather Stewart, Ph.D, 2016

While stigma affects everyone, one of the most challenging problems facing our communities today involves the prejudice and discrimination against people with behavioral health disorders. Within any given year, one in four Marylanders (more than 1 million people) lives with a behavioral health condition, and these stigmatizing attitudes and behaviors create significant barriers to their recovery.

How do I know when it’s stigma?

We have to make judgments all the time, and we strive to base them on current and accurate information. However, stigma is a prejudgment based on assumptions, not facts, and is often fueled by fear or ignorance. For example, people often assume that individuals with a mental illness are violent, when the fact is that a person with a serious mental illness is much more likely to be the victim of a crime than to commit one. 

How does stigma hurt individuals?

… addiction is not a character flaw – it is a chronic illness that we must approach with the same skill and compassion with which we approach heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
— Vivek Murthy, US Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, 2016

Stigma is one of the most significant barriers to recovery, resulting in feelings of isolation, hopelessness and helplessness. It undermines relationships and creates barriers to employment, housing, even access to quality medical care.