Stigma is twofold:

Public stigma is the reaction that the general population has to people with mental illness.

Self-stigma is the prejudice which people with mental illness turn against themselves. 

Stigma is when someone views you in a negative way because you have a distinguishing characteristic or personal trait that's thought to be, or actually is, a disadvantage (a negative stereotype). (

Stigma can be deeply hurtful and isolating, and is one of the most significant problems encountered by people  with mental illness. Learning to live with mental illness is made more difficult when someone experiences the prejudice caused by stigma.


The prejudice and fear caused by stigma may even prevent people from coming forward and seeking the help they need. Stigma stops people from offering help or being supportive, it inhibits people from getting the jobs they are qualified to do, and it can prevent people with mental illness from playing an active role in their community.

Stigma in African American  Communities

Mental health stigma in the Black community dates as far back as slavery, when it was commonly thought that slaves were not sophisticated enough to develop anxiety, depression, or other mental health disorders. Those historic misconceptions were rooted in our ancestors, passed down generation after generation, and we learned to ignore mental illness; it was considered a character flaw, signs of weakness, and/or a private matter that was not to be discussed. As a community, some either suffer in silence or keep their mental health issues between them and a higher power. 

Reliable Hearts Strike Out Stigma (SOS) campaign provides underserved youth, families, and communities with education and facts about mental health to dispel the myths and encourage individuals who are suffering to seek help.


Research shows that people with mental health disorders consistently identify stigma, discrimination and social exclusion as major barriers to their health, well-being and quality of life.


Image by Nick Owuor (astro.nic.visuals)

First things first

Mental illness is not a character defect.


There are many reasons why people develop mental illness. Some are genetic or biological. Some are a result of childhood trauma or overwhelming stress at school, work, or home. Some stem from social injustice or violence. Sometimes, we simply don't know. Regardless of the reasons, these are health problems just like cancer, arthritis or diabetes. 

Mental Illness Does Not Discriminate

based on race, color, gender, or identity


how you understand and cope with these conditions may be different

Although anyone can develop a mental health problem, African Americans sometimes experience more severe forms of mental health conditions due to unmet needs and other barriers. According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious psychological distress, such as major depression, suicide, PTSD, and anxiety than any other race. source:

1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year 

1 in 25 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year

1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year 

50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-34


  • Approximately 18% (44 million) of US adults have a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year (source:

  • 20.6% (9 million) adults with mental illness in the US report they try and can't get treatment (source:

  • 19.3% (9 million) of adults in the US experienced a co-occurring substance use disorder and mental illness in 2018 (source:


Prevalence among US adults:

  • Anxiety Disorders: 19.1% (estimated 48 million people)

  • Bipolar Disorder: 2.8% (estimated 7 million people)

  • Borderline Personality Disorder: 1.4% (estimated 3.5 million people)

  • Major Depressive Episode: 7.2% (estimated 17.7 million people)

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: 1.2% (estimated 3 million people)

  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: 3.6% (estimated 9 million people)

  • Schizophrenia: <1% (estimated 1.5 million people)

People with depression have a 40% higher risk of developing heart disease than the general population (source:


  • Youth mental health is worsening. From 2012-2017 the prevalence of past-year Major Depressive Episode increased from 8.66% to 13.01% of youth ages 12-17. Now over two million youth have Major Depressive Episode (source:

  • The average delay between onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment is 11 years (source:

  • High school students with significant symptoms of depression are more than twice as likely to dropout compared to their peers (source: 

  • 70.4% of youth in the juvenile justice system have a diagnosed mental illness (source:


  • Mental illness and substance use disorders are involved in 1 out of every 8 emergency department visits by US adult (estimated 12 million visits) (source:

  • Mood disorders are the most common cause of hospitalization for all people in the US under age 45 (source:

  • 20.1% of people experiencing homelessness in the US have a serious mental health condition (source:

  • 37% of adults incarcerated in the state and federal prison system have a diagnosed mental illness (source:

Mental Health

The most untalked about common illness in African American families and communities.

People are sick...

not crazy.


Suicide is Tragic and Traumatizing.

  • From 2014 to 2018 the suicide rate among black non-Hispanic males increased nearly 54% (source:

  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US., homicide ranks 16th. (source:

  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in the US among people aged 10-34. (source:

Suicide is a means to escape the pain when there's no support due to...



Everyone can play an important role in helping Reliable Hearts Strike Out Stigma against mental illness. Mental health is a major component in overall well-being, and optimum health includes mental health as well as physical health. Mental health must become part of the everyday conversations of youth, families, and communities so when someone is struggling they have many places to turn to for support.

9 Ways to Strike Out Stigma Now:

  1. Talk Openly About Mental Health

  2. Educate Yourself and Others

  3. Be Conscious of Language

  4. Encourage Equality Between Physical and Mental Illness

  5. Show Compassion for Those With Mental Illness

  6. Choose Empowerment Over Shame

  7. Be Honest About Treatment

  8. Let The Media Know When They Are Being Stigmatizing

  9. Don't Harbor Self-Stigma