Youth Forum Dialogue Circles – Defeating Stigma

Defeating Stigma

Stigma: Not just disapproval, also avoidance. This is a rare opportunity to talk about issues of mental illness.

COMMENTS: Examples of stigma and underlying issue(s)?:

Indirection (“recent events,” “the tragedies”) indicates shying away from the topic/emotional reality.

Worried about the effect on others (fear of upsetting).

Defensiveness about mental illness – don’t want to take responsibility for causes.

Desire to avoid pity. Undermines image of confidence.

Our community has fewer stigmas as a result of talking about suicides, availability of ACS, etc. It’s more socially acceptable. “Refer a friend.”

No support group for teens in the area, they have to go to SF.

Mental illness has an element of shame. Can be seen as a character or moral problem.

Behind stigma is denial, driven by fear.

Stigma blaming yourself. “Should be able to solve it myself.”

COMMENTS: Barriers to help-seeking


awkwardness of talking about feelings

“treatment wouldn’t work.”

There is a fear that parents can use information against you, so don’t want to disclose “The test is stressing me out.”

Want to provide illusion of control, everything is “ok”. There is a fear of being judged.

There is pressure in the school to be the perfect student. Example: students who struggled with anxiety, but didn’t want to talk about it.

There is a myth that people can control their feelings. May be particularly hard for teens with hormone changes, etc.

Shame from “choosing” not to get better. A sign of weakness?

COMMENTS:  Solutions

More peer support. Rock doesn’t solve the problem of getting support because you still have to reach out

Seeing mental illness not as a choice would help (education). More knowledge would help. (however, Living Skills is not seen as important; just a requirement).

Requirement in PE for mental health education. Or, integrate into all classes (i.e. books on mental health in English) to normalize.

Who can they reach out to? Guidance counselor, parents, friends.

Need to respond to suicide as a medical emergency.

Mental illness should be treated like physical illness. Leaving mental illness untreated happens all the time.


Most teachers don’t know how to teach different kinds of students. Even a 504 plan doesn’t guarantee accommodations.  Example: English teacher couldn’t/wouldn’t help deal with disability. Contrast that with helpfulness when the problem is a broken leg.

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