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By Denise Holcomb


In Ohio, nearly five people die by suicide each day. According to the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research, suicide is also the second leading cause of death for children 

ages 10 -19 years old in the United States.  Nearly one in 6 teens has seriously contemplated suicide in the past year.  Suicide affects people of all backgrounds.

Suicide is nearly always complex and tragic, yet often preventable if communities are provided with the right tools.


As we move forward with other organizations in 2021 to remove stigma associated with suicide, mental illness, mental health, and substance use in Ohio, we firmly believe that addressing stigmatization is where to start. Therefore, I will begin by answering a simple, but sometimes misunderstood question: What does stigma have to do with mental illness and suicide?


What is stigma?


1. strong lack of respect for a person or a group of people or a bad opinion of them because they have done something society does not approve of:

(Cambridge Dictionary)

2.  something that detracts from the character or reputation of a person, group, etc.; mark of disgrace or reproach 

3. a mark, sign, etc. indicating that something is not considered normal or standard

(Collins Dictionary).


What is mental health stigma?

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), there are three different

types of mental health stigmas: public, self, and institution.


Public stigma involves the negative or discriminatory attitudes that others have about mental illness.
Self-stigma refers to the negative attitudes, including internalized shame, that people with mental illness have about their own condition.
Institutional stigma is more systemic, involving policies of the government and private organizations that intentionally or unintentionally limit opportunities for people with mental illness. 


Do you partake in mental health stigma, knowingly or unknowingly?

According to APA stigma not only directly affects individuals with mental illness, but also the loved ones who support them, often including their family members. Their reports also include the following important findings which address stigmatization: Harmful Effects of Stigma and Discrimination.  Stigma and

discrimination has a negative impact on individuals.  It produces a distorted view

for a person needing help, and can cause them to not seek treatment, or even stop treatment which in both causes contributes to worsening  symptoms and sometimes suicide.  


When an individual has self-stigma, it can have profoundly negative effects on their recovery and wellness process. 

According to APA these effects include:

  • reduced hope

  • lower self-esteem

  • increased psychiatric symptoms

  • difficulties with social relationships

  • reduced likelihood of staying with treatment

  • more difficulties at work

Some of the other harmful effects of stigma can include:

  • Reluctance to seek help or treatment and less likely to stay with treatment

  • Social isolation

  • Lack of understanding by family, friends, coworkers, or others

  • Fewer opportunities for work, school or social activities or trouble finding housing

  • Bullying, physical violence or harassment

  • Health insurance that doesn’t adequately cover your mental illness treatment

  • The belief that you’ll never succeed at certain challenges or that you can’t improve your situation


Now that we have addressed and given a blueprint of what mental health stigma is,

and  how damaging it can be, the next question would be, “What can we do to

help fight mental health stigma?”  

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers nine ways to fight mental health stigma:

  • Talk Openly About Mental Health

  • Educate Yourself And Others

  • Be Conscious Of Language

  • Encourage Equality Between Physical And Mental Illness

  • Show Compassion For Those With Mental Illness

  • Choose Empowerment Over Shame

  • Be Honest About Treatment

  • Let The Media Know When They’re Being Stigmatizing

  • Don’t Harbor Self-Stigma

Ohio is a state that recognizes and understands the need to bring mental health wellness into its communities.  In 2020, I attended several committee meetings,

and saw first hand the hard work which is being done to address mental health, substance use, and suicide in Ohio.  Organizations are taking great effects to reach

our communities.  With this being  said my request to my fellow communities, and faith-based communities is to put aside the stigma, better yet, get rid of the

stigma, so that we can be a vital part of

saving lives.  


It is senseless for Ohioan's or anyone to experience the loss of a love one by death of suicide, or drug overdose, when there are so many resources and means of help available.  I consider myself blessed to be in a state with grants, and other monetary resources are available to the community.  I have lived with the endless pain of losing three family members to death by suicide, a brother, a cousin, and my only son,

all I ask of my community is that you don’t wait until it knocks at your door to do something about it, because you never want to have a “it’s too late moment”. We all know that mental health    is real, and if we have ever doubted it, the 2020 begun an awakening phase of mental health as never before.  With this being said mental illness and stigma is just as real.


In a previous article I wrote, titled which as published in The Cleveland Observer

in 2020, “An Awakening Phase of Mental Health”, I mentioned the death rate by suicide in the  African American community, and I will conclude this article by saying suicide is complex  and cannot be attributed to ONE factor, but the stigma of mental illness and the collective unwillingness to talk about it, may have made it difficult for

individuals to reach for help when they needed it.  Removing stigma destroys fear, disgrace, and shame and which can ultimately be replaced with the hope, and will to survive. 



Resources used in this article:

Stigma, Prejudice Discrimination Against People with Mental Illness,cover%20your%20mental%20illness%20treatment

Nine Ways to Fight Mental Health Stigma

What is Stigma