Many people with depression don’t seek help for it. In part, the unwillingness to seek help may have to do with the stigmas often attached to mental health.

People with depression may try to hide their feelings, afraid that folks will:

  • judge them differently
  • treat them differently
  • avoid them altogether

If you have depression, you may fear not being able to live a typical life because you may not quite fit into how society thinks you should feel or be. Learning how to navigate your mental health difficulties and shame you may experience living with depression can be tough, but it’s worth it.

A 2019 study has shown that stigma is a cultural and societal phenomenon. At its core, society sets expectations about how a person should act. Anytime a person doesn’t fit into their culture or society’s predefined roles, they can face discrimination or disapproval.

Media plays a role

Media can fuel depression and mental health stigma. Television, movies, and books may drive stereotypes through inaccurate, comical, or exaggerated representations of people with mental health disorders.

Media portrayals of people with depression may influence folks with no real-world experience with a person with a mental health condition. As a result, their entire perception may be based on what they see on TV, in movies, on social media, or in other sources of mass media.

No society or culture is very accepting

It’s also a pervasive issue affecting nearly every society and culture. According to a 2016 study, researchers noted that no country, society, nor culture views people with mental health issues as having the same value as those without mental health issues.

Perception of depression may be improving

Though the perception of mental health, such as depression, may be harmful, some evidence suggests that, at least for depression, stigma may be improving some.

In a 2021 study, researchers examined data that spanned over 22 years and looked at the public perception of mental health conditions in the United States. They found that folks have become increasingly more accepting of people with depression, though more is needed to help reduce the stigma associated with mental health conditions.

The researchers attributed the changes in attitude to generational differences and age, indicating that attitudes may continue to improve over time.

Depression stigma can be broken down into three main types. Each one can affect a person’s:

  • willingness to seek help
  • mental and physical health
  • relationships

The three types of stigma according to research on depression and anxiety stigma include:


Self-stigma describes how you or a person with a mental health condition may feel about themselves. It can include feelings of personal shame or a need to deprive oneself of positive things. This type of stigma can be just as negative as the others.

According to a 2017 study that surveyed over 200 people, self-stigma causes overall worse recovery 1 and 2 years after starting treatment.

Public stigma

Public stigma refers to how other people view folks with depression or other mental health illnesses.

In a 2018 study, researchers sent out a self-administered questionnaire to over 1,000 people in Japan during their annual health checkups. The survey asked 4 questions related to depression and its treatment.

The study found that 30% of respondents felt depression resulted from weakness. Another 58.9% believed that pharmacotherapy could help with depression.

Institutional stigma

Institutional stigma is more of a systemic or overarching issue that can be more difficult to recognize or address. It can involve:

  • companies (employment)
  • organizations (like charities or other nonprofits)
  • governments (such as services that help provide housing)

Institutional stigma can lead to lower funding for mental health studies or fewer opportunities for people with depression to find work or services to help them when needed.

Further classifications

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) breaks stigma into seven different types. They include self, public, and institutional (calling it structural) stigmas but also add:

  • Health practitioner stigma: Occurs when a healthcare professional allows their belief to affect a person’s care
  • Perceived stigma: belief others will judge them
  • Stigma by association: Where people assume peers that are close to a person with depression also have the same “issues”
  • Label avoidance: Not going to seek treatment to avoid the label

Regardless of how stigmas are categorized, the reality is that they can, and do, affect people with depression.

The negative effects of stigma can be particularly bad if you have a mental health condition, such as depression. Some negative effects stigma can have on you or a family member include:

  • delays in seeking or never seeking mental health services
  • poor response to treatment
  • trouble sticking with treatment
  • reduced feelings of hope
  • issues with self-esteem
  • stigma may compound with more complex issues such as criminal records, homelessness, addiction, or personality disorders
  • may contribute to poor physical health and earlier death due to factors such as not eating well, lack of exercise, and doctors misdiagnosing potential physical symptoms as signs of their mental health condition
  • social isolation
  • support issues with co-workers, family members, and personal relationships
  • bullying and other forms of harassment
  • may lead to suicide
  • poorly covered mental health treatments (health insurance issues)
  • interpersonal issues

According to a 2018 national survey, about 90% of teens have looked online for personal accounts about depression or general information about depression. About 3 of 4 respondents also reported looking specifically for personal stories of folks who’ve also toiled with different aspects of depression.

Whether you or a loved one has depression, you can take some steps to help cope with the stigma. Some proactive steps to try include:

  • checking out personal stories about depression
  • practicing self-compassion
  • seeking help from a mental health professional — they are there to help, not judge
  • reaching out to media outlets to point out when they use potentially harmful stereotypes
  • helping to advocate for equality between physical and mental health

If you don’t have depression, you can also help to end the stigma associated with depression or other mental illnesses. One very important aspect is to show compassion for people you know who may be living with depression.

You can check out this article for more information on ending stigma associated with mental health.

Depression stigma is a real phenomenon in which society and individuals harshly judge those with depression. It can exist at several levels, including personal, cultural, and institutional.

Stigma can impede a person’s overall health, access to treatment, employment, other services, relationships, and other aspects of their life. It may lead to a decreased life expectancy as well.

Within the last few years, the stigma around depression may be shifting. Evidence suggests that the younger generation is more accepting of depression, which could indicate a shift away from stereotyping those with depression.

You can take steps to help reduce depression stigma and its effects on you or others. You may find that reading or seeing other people’s stories may help. Also, sharing your own story with trusted folks in your life may help to continue to show others that depression, or other mental illnesses, are not what some people may think.