Are We Making Progress Overcoming the Stigma of Mental Illness?

By Becca Owens

There has been a strong, concerted effort over the years to change public perception regarding mental health disorders. Fighting against stigma and fighting for support — both public moral support as well as financial support and insurance coverage — have been two fronts of this dedicated battle.

But where have the efforts led, and what progress has been made? And what battles need to be fought next?

Erasing the Public Taboo

One area where progress has been made is the willingness of celebrities to speak up about their mental health struggles. Celebrity culture is a quirky convention, but it certainly has the power to affect the attitudes of the overall population.

When people from ordinary walks of life see social media posts and news blurbs about a celebrity coming forward with their own personal struggle with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or some other form of mental illness, it helps change the culture. People begin to feel that their own struggle is not insurmountable or shameful, and some may even feel empowered to pursue professional help.

The following is a list of notable celebrities who have spoken out:

  • Ryan Reynolds – As a hugely successful film actor, he has been upfront about his ongoing battle with anxiety and even the fact that it has likely stemmed from a challenging relationship with his father.
  • Mariah Carey – Although she has hit after hit in the music world, she fights the battle of bipolar disorder. For many years, she was unaware what her cycles of depression and mania meant, but she has since found help and now works to empower others.
  • Kerry Washington – She has had the lead role in a popular TV drama for many years, and she says that going to regular therapy visits is an important part of taking care of herself, likening it to regular dental checkups.
  • Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – He says he realizes how important it is to be upfront about his battle with depression, particularly to help other men. As a celebrity figure, he wants men to know that they are not alone in their struggles with mental health.1
  • Michael Phelps – One of the most decorated Olympians of all time also struggles with mental health issues. After realizing how deeply depressed he was and fighting suicidal thoughts, he sought help and continues to heal. He now uses his platform to help others find similar help.
  • Mardy Fish – The American tennis player dropped out of the 2012 US Open in the fourth round because his anxiety was too overwhelming to keep moving forward. He has since been seeking help through a therapist, who helps him set realistic life goals, and medication.2

As more celebrities and public figures speak out about their struggles, the stigma will continue to wane, and fewer people will view mental health disorders as scary or taboo.

Herschel Walker

Want to hear more about how Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker hopes to be a beacon of hope for others with dissociative identity disorder? Listen to his full interview  on the Recovery Unscripted podcast.

The Complicated World of Insurance Coverage

Woman comforting a friendThe Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA) brought significant advances to coverage for mental health disorders. It meant that providers must cover mental health benefits at the same level as medical and surgical benefits. By requiring that all services from both categories be equal, patients with these insurance plans should be afforded adequate care — at least equal to the care they could receive from a family doctor or hospital.

Medicaid expansion legislation has similarly brought great benefit to providing help for those with mental illnesses, particularly those from lower income backgrounds. It’s estimated that 40 percent of individuals who received benefits from Medicaid expansion have a mental health diagnosis. Those individuals could then receive the help they needed under the expansion.3

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), signed by President Obama in 2010, brought many changes to American healthcare. Insurance regulations are changing very quickly again under the Trump administration. Funding for Medicaid is being cut rapidly, and states are being allowed to determine what benefits they will provide with their insurance plans. Much of Congress remains committed to doing away with ACA legislation, so it’s likely that more changes could be coming.

How You Can Fight the Battle

Although much progress has been made, progress can be reversed very quickly, and much more still remains to be done. The following are some ways to make a difference in the effort to reduce stigma of mental health disorders:

  • Be open about personal struggles – Not everyone is a celebrity. However, everyone has their own circle of influence. Talking about individual struggles and diagnoses helps others around you realize how common mental health struggles are. Heroes in Recovery is an effort to help give a voice to those who are ready to tell their stories. Consider sharing your story or reading the stories of others on the Heroes website.
  • Change your own rhetoric – Even if you don’t struggle with mental illness, someone around you surely does. Making an effort to change how you think and talk about mental health diagnoses is a great way to participate in the battle.
  • Call your legislators – Representatives need to hear from their constituents on the issues of Medicaid, insurance coverage and the mental health crisis. Challenge yourself to make it a point to call your legislators to let your voice be heard.

However you choose to join the battle, make sure you are engaged and fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves.

Help for Mental Health Disorders

If you or someone you love is fighting a mental health diagnosis and is ready for comprehensive help, please give us a call. At The Oaks, we seek to help the whole person: mind, body and soul. Call us today at our toll-free, 24 hour helpline, and our admissions coordinators can answer your questions and help you begin your journey of healing today.


1 Bakkila, Blake. “30 Celebrities With Depression, Anxiety, and Other Mental Health Issues.”, April 27, 2018.

2 Gleeson, Scott and Erik Brady. “When athletes share their battles with mental illness.” USA Today, August 30, 2017.

3 Matthews, Susan. “Suicide Hotlines Provide a Critical Service, but They Can’t Make Up for America’s Broken Mental Health Care System.”, June 5, 2018.

Articles posted here are primarily educational and may not directly reflect the offerings at The Oaks. For more specific information on programs at The Oaks, contact us today.