Reducing mental health stigma in schools

Reducing the stigma surrounding mental health in schools is important to both the students in your classroom, but also, the wider school community.

This will help you to:

  • define stigma in relation to mental health

  • identify action points to address stigma in your school.

Group students in workshop with teacher in green sweater

What is stigma?

Stigma refers to when someone is viewed with disapproval because of a particular characteristic, such as having a mental health issue.

Stigma relating to mental health means that people with a mental health condition may be viewed negatively, have assumptions made about them or discriminated against because of their mental health. It can also result in people with mental health concerns feeling shame, guilt, and being afraid to tell others about their experiences. This can make it hard for them to access support and help.

The way people view mental health, and how they respond can be influenced by cultural beliefs, knowledge of mental health and the amount of contact they have had and the type of contact they have had with people with mental health problems. Schools play a vital role in addressing mental health based stigma as young people with mental health problems are more likely to experience higher levels of stigma than adults, and early experiences around mental health can impact on help-seeking throughout the lifespan.

Why we need to reduce stigma about mental illness

There is still a belief among some in the community that mental illnesses, and depression and anxiety, in particular, are just a sign of weakness. A far too common response to a young person experiencing depression is that they are "attention-seeking" and "should just toughen up and get over it".

Until the broader community has a better understanding of depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders, there will always be stigma attached to mental illness. The key to reducing the stigma attached to mental illness is education. If we can raise awareness among all Australians of the nature of mental health disorders (by increasing awareness of the symptoms, causes and treatments of mental illnesses and by promoting the experiences of people whose lives have been affected by mental illness) we will go a long way to reducing negative perceptions of mental illness.

How can we reduce mental health stigma in schools?

Community awareness campaigns: through school newsletters, community information nights, dissemination of information brochures and participating in community events such as Movember and R U OK? Day.

Curriculum-based learning programs: that explicitly teach about mental health issues and develop students' mental health literacy. Our Classroom resources have a range of quality resources and lesson ideas to support the delivery of curriculum learning programs that address the stigmatisation of mental health issues.

Developing a safe and supportive environment: for everyone, including those students, staff and community members whose lives are affected by a mental health difficulty.

Modelling respect for people affected by mental health difficulties: you can do this by treating people with mental health difficulties as individuals, rather than being defined by their mental health, and correcting others if they make stereotypical or unsupportive remarks.