Stopping Stigma Associated with Mental Disabilities

Federal fair housing law bans housing discrimination against prospects, applicants, and residents because of their disability as well as the disability of anyone associated with them. The disability protections were aimed at stamping out discrimination based on “misperceptions, ignorance, and outright prejudice.”

Yet today—25 years after the disability provisions were added to federal fair housing law—individuals with mental disabilities still face discrimination based on stereotypes and stigma associated with mental illness, according to mental health experts. It’s unlawful to discriminate against individuals with any type of disability, but because of the stigma associated with mental illness, it’s particularly important to keep a check on any personal or cultural bias against applicants with mental disabilities.

Increasingly, public health experts are focusing research on the stigma against people with mental illness. Earlier this month, former U.S. First Lady and Carter Center Co-Founder Rosalynn Carter and former Congressman Tony Coelho joined experts from the federal government and other mental health officials to discuss the American Journal of Public Health's first theme issue on stigma against people with mental illness.

"Having worked in the mental health field for more than 40 years, I have seen firsthand the detrimental effects that stigma and discrimination can have on a person's recovery from mental illness," said Mrs. Carter, who founded the Carter Center's Mental Health Program in 1991, in a statement. "With one-quarter of Americans affected by mental illnesses every year, it is fitting that the American Journal of Public Health has devoted this special theme issue to the important role stigma plays in overall public health and in wellness."

Although one in four Americans will experience a mental illness each year, the stigma and discrimination against people who suffer from these disorders prevents millions from seeking and receiving effective treatment. It is estimated that the United States loses $317 billion annually because of untreated mental illnesses, a large portion of which is due to lost earnings. As a result, communities across the United States bear a staggering burden of untapped potential and needless suffering.

The special journal issue, which features new research on the public's understanding of mental illness, the health impacts of stigma, and more than 30 other expert articles, can be found at

And for the Coach’s May 2013 lesson, “Addressing Fair Housing Concerns Involving Mental Disabilities,” click here.

Source: The Carter Center; American Public Health Association; Fair Housing Coach


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