Three Ways to Reduce Stigma Around Mental Health

We’re excited to welcome back BGCA’s Dr. Thomas Vance to share ways we can all create safer spaces and reduce stigmas around mental health.

Every May since 1949, the US has observed Mental Health Awareness Month. The goal of Mental Health Awareness month is to highlight the impact of mental health conditions and the importance of wellness for everyone. Research says that one in five U.S. adults lives with a mental illness (52.9 million in 2020). According to the World Health Organization, one in seven 10-19-year-olds experiences a mental disorder, yet many of these remain unrecognized and untreated.  

Mental disorders include any emotional or behavioral disorders such as: 

Multiple factors can affect mental health in youth. The more risk factors youth are exposed to, the more significant the potential impact is on their mental health. These factors include exposure to adversity, community violence, discrimination and exclusion, and socioeconomic problems. Factors that many of the youth we serve are all too familiar with. You can learn more about recent data on youth mental health in this recent ClubX Blog post.

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Part of increasing awareness is removing the stigma associated with mental illness. Stigma means negative attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and even structures held by people that result in prejudice, discrimination, and stereotyping against a group. Stigmas around mental illness that are still widely believed include that people affected can just “get over it,” that they caused their mental illness, or that they deserve punishment. Consider how differently society treats someone with a mental illness versus someone with cancer. Both are medical conditions that deserve compassion and affordable, comprehensive treatment. But both aren’t treated that way.

By reducing the stigma around mental illness, we are better able to create healthy relationships with the people we love, such as our youth, and promote our own well-being. Here are a few ways to reduce stigmas in your community:

Increase Your Own Education

Fear of mental illness is often related to the lack of education and understanding. Through education, we can begin unlearning negative stereotypes and stigmas. You can find reputable information from sources such as the National Institute of Mental Health (NAMI), the World Health Organization (WHO), and Mental Health America. Another way to learn more and increase your empathy is through reading memoirs and nonfiction. Here are some titles you may be interested in:

Choose Your Words Carefully

How we speak and think about some things often influences the way we feel. Using a strengths-based approach in describing mental health highlights the innate strengths, opportunities, and power of individuals to represent them positively. A 2016 study showed this through the use of two different surveys. In one survey, the term “mentally ill” was used, and in the other, “people with mental illnesses.” They found participants showed less tolerance toward people referred to as “the mentally ill” than “people with mental illness.” This is evidence that language matters. You can learn more about BGCA’s approach to Strengths-Based Messaging on

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Create a Speak Up Culture

We can break down barriers of ignorance and prejudice and be allies for people with mental illness through speaking up. Educate others about how common mental illness is, and call out stigma or dehumanizing language when you hear it. Let people in your life know that you are a safe person they can come to if they need help. By speaking openly about your own experiences with mental health, you can create a brave space for others to speak about theirs.

With youth, introduce the concept of mental health in age-appropriate ways. One simple method is through books you either read aloud or have available in a Club library. Here are some lists of books to consider:

May should not be the only time of the year to raise awareness of those living with mental health issues. Boys & Girls Clubs of America has a commitment to continue supporting these efforts and advocating on issues related to mental health and youth. You can learn more about these efforts by browsing the Mental Health tag here on the ClubX Blog or by visiting For resources to support youth who are exhibiting challenging behavior and to help create a Club culture that responds in constructive and compassionate ways visit the Behavior Support Toolkit, and to learn more about becoming a Trauma-Informed Club visit

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How do you support youth mental health at your Club? What are your favorite resources to build a growth mindset, resiliency, and other social-emotional skills? Comment below, on the BGCA Youth Development Facebook page, or email

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