Good News for Stigma Fighters

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Stigma is created by public opinion. If the public could have more empowering and empathetic views toward people who have a mental illness, it could lead to a paradigm shift that could help more people see diagnosis as a blueprint rather than a bombshell. 

Jen Reviews, “A Blueprint When Feeling Blue: How A Mental Health Diagnosis Can Be Empowering”

The Future Looks Bright

The mental health statistics are grim:

  • Globally, more than 300 million people of all ages suffer from depression. (WHO)
  • An estimated 31.1% of US adults experience any anxiety disorder at some time in their lives. (NIH)
  • One in four college students has a diagnosable mental illness. (
    • 40% do not seek help
    • 50% have become so anxious that they struggled in school

BUT the future looks bright!

It is easy to look at these statistics and foresee a bleak future. However, there are social shifts taking place that offer encouragement. Young people are becoming more authentic, open, and inclusive, which means they are creating a better environment for Stigma Fighters to fight the good fight.

A Desire for Authenticity

authenticityOne point parents can agree on is that millennials value authenticity. They are a “get real” generation. We know this because when we try to relate to our kids by acting and talking like them, we usually crash and burn.

“It’s as if your parents are trying to connect with you and they’re trying to do it by using the same language that your friends would,” says Paul Angone (age 32), the author of two books on millennials. “Talking in emojis, for instance, ‘comes off as pandering and inauthentic.'” The problem is that parents’ well-intended efforts often come off as inauthentic. (Bloomberg)

More and more businesses are recognizing this to be true as well, and they are taking notice. They have to, as millennials now make up the majority of the workforce in the US. This is a generation that grew up with the ability to access information anytime/anywhere and to share that information with the click of a mouse (or trackpad).

The reality is that “globalization, social media and the advent of sites like GlassDoor have made it virtually impossible for companies to keep their secrets.” One company that understands the millennial “get real” mentality and takes it to heart is goBrando! Go to work at this company, and you’ll find their financials posted on the wall! (

An Attitude of Openness

We’ve come a long way since parents told their children, don’t speak until spoken to. Today, instead, parents encourage children to speak their minds and even to challenge authority.

One positive result of the shift away from an authoritarian parenting style is that parents are spending more time with their children and are more engaged in their lives. This new level of interaction opens up more topics of conversation, as well as the time and freedom to address serious issues that we simply did not talk about before, even with our own children.

“I think it’s a great thing overall that there’s this wonderful closeness between parents and emerging adults today, and I really think it’s unprecedented in human history,” says Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a research professor at Clark University in Massachusetts and director of the Clark Poll of Emerging Adults. (NPR)

And while one might think that everything about a recession is negative, including the fact that it drives young people back home to live with their parents, what is interesting is that the circumstances also drive twentysomethings to look to their parents for emotional support. That means parents still have the opportunity to influence the way children perceive the world and visa versa.

A Desire for Diversity & Inclusion

diversityMillennials value diversity more than any other generation that has been in the workforce. Twentysomethings want to work with people from variety of backgrounds with a multitude experiences, not just to look as though they are inclusive, but to be inclusive. They believe this is the way organizations will grow and become more competitive.

As a 2018 report from Deloitte titled “The Radical Transformation of Inclusion and Diversity: The Millennial Influence” demonstrates, millennials believe that the best teams are made up of people who represent a blend of unique perspectives, and that those teams are more effective because they are cognitively diverse. In other words, bringing people together who think differently results in more innovation and better decision-making. “Overwhelmingly, millennial definitions of diversity have a tone of possibility — with differences in background, experiences, and style, a team is more likely to create innovative and groundbreaking products and services.”

Millennials who do not experience cognitive diversity in an organization typically move on in search of a workplace culture that better meets their vision of how inclusion maps to business success. According to a recent article in The Economic Times, “Globally, almost 70 percent of those who intend to stay with their companies more than five years consider their organizations diverse, and 56 percent say the senior management team is diverse. In Asia, this trend is more pronounced, with 80 percent of loyal workers saying their organization is diverse, and 74 percent saying the senior management team is diverse.”

Since 20% of a company’s workforce and customers have a mental health condition, it is critical that people with mental health challenges are part of the shift toward an inclusive workforce. This quote from a young woman to her mom indicates that millennials are leading the way on this front: “Mom, you wouldn’t believe how many people my age talk about mental health,” she said. “It’s not a taboo subject anymore. I know a lot of people at work and friends outside of work who see therapists or take medication for anxiety and depression.”

Optimistic, Not Naïve

Don’t get me wrong. I am not naïve. I know that there is still a stigma. But millennials are coming of age, starting college, and entering the workforce, bringing with them a desire for authenticity, an attitude of openness, and a desire for diversity that can only move the Stigma Fighters’ cause forward. And while I believe the generations must work together to thoughtfully consider how new values and attitudes translate into cultural norms, I am excited about the opportunity the twenty-first century brings for having more effective intergenerational conversations about how to better understand and manage mental health disorders.

There is good reason to be optimistic that we can change how people think about mental illness sooner rather than later. Now is the time to help people recognize that “mental diseases are real, diagnosable and often treatable,” and that a person with mental illness should be treated just like a person with a physical disease. (Forbes)

Editor’s Note: This article, which was originally posted on April 16, 2016, has been updated for accuracy and clarity.