Health topic: Mental Health Health Promotion

Reduce stigma

What's it about?

Stigma is an umbrella term for negative attitudes (prejudice) and negative behaviours (discrimination).

Stigma is a known barrier that may prevent young people from getting help for mental health problems or mental illness. It can stop them from reaching out and accessing care, treatment, or support for a meaningful recovery.

Schools are essential partners in reducing stigma.


What's involved?

The following actions can reduce stigma related to mental illness. They go hand-in-hand with improving mental health literacy.

For information and advice specific to reducing stigma related to COVID-19, check out the Alberta COVID-19 Youth Mental Health Resource Hub.


Use quality information

When mental health is part of your curriculum-based teaching, use only high-quality resources from credible sources. Inaccurate information and media stories that perpetuate these ideas, can reinforce stigma.

Here are some trustworthy Alberta-based materials to get you started:


Normalize conversations about mental health

With careful planning, talking about mental health and mental illness can be a normal part of the school experience. Here are some practical ideas:

  • Encourage students to challenge negative attitudes, myths, and stereotypes around mental illness. Examples may come from movies, literature, television, news media, and websites.
  • Use person-first language. This means talking about the person first, not the condition. For example: “a student who is living with depression” or “a staff member who is in long-term recovery."
  • Incorporate anti-stigma campaigns like Bell Let’s Talk or Hats on for Mental Health into your curriculum-based teaching. As long as they’re not stand-alone events, movements like these can help start conversations about what it’s like to live with a mental illness.
  • Share the stories of community members with lived experience of mental illness—research suggest this may help students to be more accepting and empathetic. During the COVID-19 pandemic, try digital stories, like videos or blogs.

Thinking about bringing a speaker with lived experience into your classroom or school? Our Guide For Choosing School Health Resources can help you decide if this is the right thing to do, and offers tips to make the best of the opportunity.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, be sure to follow public health guidance related to visitors in childcare and education.

  • Share ideas about how you protect your own mental health, like by getting active, spending time outdoors, or connecting with friends.
  • Encourage students to be open about their challenges, and to label and express their feelings. Teach them to listen openly and without judgment.


Make it okay to ask for help

  • Encourage students to talk to an adult if they need support or if they know someone in distress. Build their confidence and ability to ask for help by developing their social emotional skills
  • When students come to you for support with mental health, respond with compassion. Focus on strengths, be hopeful and optimistic, and remind them that help is available.
  • Know that not all students will connect with an adult for mental health support. Some will go online, while others may reach out to peers. Encourage students to explore tools like the golden rules for helping—a guide to help teens check-in with friends who may be struggling.
  • Display information in the classroom and school about mental health services in your local area, as well as those available by phone, text, and chat.

Visit AHS addiction and mental health to find help lines, programs, services, and other resources in your local area.

For emergencies, dial 911 or go directly to the nearest emergency department.

How it connects

The impact of stigma is far-reaching. It can limit students’ full participation in school and in the community, and it can prevent them from getting support for recovery.

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