Mental Health Stigma Is Easier than Compassion

July 27, 2020 Laura A. Barton

Mental health stigma is easier than compassion for those who struggle with mental health issues. Have you ever thought about how easily people seem to stigmatize others for their mental health struggles? The words are part of commonplace conversation and the way people with mental illness are treated is almost commonplace behavior. It doesn't take effort to participate in stigma.

Compassion Takes Effort, Acting on Mental Health Stigma Does Not

Mental health stigma is easy. Biting words that have been said a million times or unfair judgement and treatment toward those with mental illnesses have been written into society. Actually taking the time to see how someone is impacted by mental illness and offer warmth is harder. It takes effort.

It shouldn't take effort to have compassion or empathy for another human being and his or her situation, but it means stepping outside of yourself and your own interests ("The Importance of Developing Empathy"). Putting yourself aside is the biggest piece of this. You might think that the struggle isn't that bad or that whatever someone is upset about isn't worth it; you might think that if you were in that position you'd be handling that struggle better. But it's not about you in those moments. It's about the person going through the issue.

People also seem to think that you have to go through the exact same situation in order to get it and act appropriately. I can appreciate that frame of mind. It's difficult to understand how mental health issues can affect a person's psyche when you don't know that feeling yourself. However, you don't have to have a mental illness or mental health struggles yourself in order to be able to show empathy for those who do. It's about understanding that the person is hurting or just overall not okay.

When you repeatedly treat people terribly for their struggles and say unhelpful things to the person struggling, and then try to use the excuse of "I don't know what it's like" to pardon the behavior, that's just another facet of mental health stigma.

Using the excuse "I don't know what it's like" as if to pardon unfair treatment and harsh words signals that you don't care to make the effort to show kindness and that you'd rather continue with stigma. That's the easier route, after all, since it's so ingrained in society and easier to spout off.

Dos and Don'ts for Having Compassion Instead of Promoting Mental Health Stigma

  1. Do ask if there's anything you can do to help. It can be tough to know how to help someone who's struggling, so asking can help bridge that. Keep in mind though that the person might not know either. Simply having compassion can sometimes be enough.
  2. Don't tell the person the struggle is no big deal. Clearly, if someone is struggling, then it's a big deal to that person. It's not up to you to decide for someone else.
  3. Do realize that even if you think you might handle the situation better, the other person might not handle it the same way you would. Everyone has different capacities and ways of dealing with things. Again, someone else's struggle isn't about you and how you would deal with it.
  4. Don't repeat stigmatizing behavior and phrases. This is especially true when the person has told you they're unhelpful.
  5. Do realize that you don't have to understand mental illness in order to have compassion for someone struggling.

I know I went over a few of those earlier in the blog, but they're worth repeating. If having compassion for someone struggling with mental health instead of slipping into the ease of mental health stigma takes effort for you, please keep these things in mind. A little effort can go a long way.

APA Reference
Barton, L. (2020, July 27). Mental Health Stigma Is Easier than Compassion, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 17 from

Author: Laura A. Barton

Laura A. Barton is a fiction and non-fiction writer from Ontario, Canada. Follow her writing journey and book love on Instagram, and Goodreads.

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