Breaking Down Barriers: How Social Norms Affect Mental Health Treatment

Updated May 26, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

No one should have to live in silence when it comes to their mental health. We all have the capacity for resilience, but sometimes we need a bit of help along the way. That's why understanding social norms and how they can affect access to treatment is so important.

At its core, this is about breaking down barriers — both internal and external - that prevent people from getting the care they need. Social stigma around mental health still exists in many cultures, leading individuals to feel shame and fear when seeking help or even talking about their challenges openly with friends or family members.

Is Mental Health Stigma Preventing You From Getting Help?

But it doesn't have to be this way. By recognizing these issues and taking steps towards creating more inclusive environments where everyone feels safe asking for support, we can ensure that no one is alone on their mental health journey.

The Impact Of Stigma On Mental Health Treatment

Mental health is an incredibly important topic affecting millions of people worldwide, yet it is often viewed through the lens of stigma and shame.

Stigma can be defined as a mark of disgrace attributed to a particular circumstance, quality, or person, and when it comes to mental health, the effects of stigma can be pervasive and damaging.

Shame and embarrassment are among the most significant effects of stigma on individuals seeking help for mental health concerns. The persistent societal messaging that mental health issues are a sign of weakness can make it difficult for individuals to ask for help and may even cause them to feel ashamed of their condition. This shame can lead to a cycle of self-blame that, if left unchecked, can exacerbate mental health concerns and make it difficult for individuals to move forward.

Another common effect of stigma surrounding mental health is the fear of discrimination. Individuals who have experienced stigma in the past or who have witnessed it happen to others may worry that seeking help for mental health issues will lead to job loss, social exclusion, or other forms of discrimination. This fear can be incredibly overwhelming and may cause individuals to avoid seeking help altogether, further perpetuating the cycle of shame and isolation.

Social isolation is another key effect of stigma surrounding mental health issues. Individuals who are afraid of the stigma attached to their mental health struggles may be reluctant to discuss their issues with others, leading to a sense of loneliness and isolation. This isolation can make it difficult for individuals to connect with others who may be going through similar experiences and can further contribute to feelings of shame and self-blame.

However, the effects of stigma surrounding mental health are not limited to individuals. Untreated mental health concerns can have a negative impact on society as a whole, leading to increased economic costs, strain on healthcare systems, and increased rates of homelessness, addiction, and crime.

When individuals cannot access the help they need, they may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms like drugs or alcohol, aggravating mental health issues and creating a cycle of further harm.

It's clear that the stigma surrounding mental health has far-reaching consequences, and the importance of overcoming this stigma cannot be overstated. By fostering open discussions about mental health, dispelling harmful myths and stereotypes, and encouraging individuals to seek help without fear of discrimination or isolation, we can work towards breaking down the barriers that prevent people from receiving the care they need.

Social Norms That Influence Stigma

Social norms can have a powerful impact on how we perceive mental health treatment. Unfortunately, many of these norms can be deeply entrenched, making it difficult for people to access the care they need.

Let's look closely at some common social norms that can hinder mental health treatment.

First, traditional gender roles can be a major barrier to mental health treatment. For example, men are often expected to be stoic and unemotional, making it difficult for them to seek help when needed. In many cases, men feel it is "weak" or "unmanly" to seek emotional support. On the other hand, women are often expected to be emotionally stable caregivers and may feel guilty or ashamed if they require help themselves.

As we challenge traditional gender roles and redefine what it means to be a "strong" person, we can help create a more open, accepting atmosphere for people of all genders who are seeking mental health treatment.

Cultural and religious beliefs can also play a major role in how we think about mental health treatment. Some people believe that mental health issues are a sign of weakness or punishment. Others may prefer traditional or spiritual healing methods over professional help. In some cases, cultural or religious norms may even discourage seeking professional help altogether.

Misconceptions about mental health treatment can also prevent people from accessing the care they need. Many people believe that therapy is not useful or can even make things worse, that it's too expensive to pursue, or that it's simply a fad. In reality, professional counseling and other mental health treatments can be incredibly effective at helping people overcome their struggles and lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.

So what can we do to overcome these social norms and improve access to mental health treatment? One important step is to increase awareness and education about mental health concerns. We must break down the stigma and silence that prevent people from seeking help.

Improving access to mental health treatment requires a concerted effort from individuals, healthcare providers, and policymakers. We must work together to create an environment where mental health is taken seriously, and those who need help can access the care they need without fear of shame or prejudice. Only then will we be able to make a lasting impact on the state of mental health in our society. 

Encouraging Help-Seeking Behavior Through Positive Social Norms

Fortunately, there are a number of ways to foster positive social norms around mental health and encourage people to seek help.

We can start by promoting mental health literacy through educational programs in schools and workplaces, public awareness campaigns, and accessible resources for individuals and families. It's important that we take the time to educate ourselves about mental health concerns — what they are, how to recognize them in ourselves and others, and where to seek help.

We should also emphasize the importance of self-care. A 2021 clinical study indicates self-care can restore proper balance in our bodies and minds, leading to greater mental well-being. We can normalize self-care practices such as prioritizing sleep, setting aside time for relaxation, taking regular breaks from work, and pursuing leisure activities. We should also support mental health days and flexible scheduling so that people have the space they need to take care of their mental health.

We can share stories of recovery and resilience to show that help-seeking behavior is an important part of mental health treatment. Hearing from public figures or peers who have gone through similar experiences can be a powerful reminder that it's okay to ask for help. We should encourage more open conversations about mental health online and in our communities and create safe spaces for people to share their stories.

Family and friends can also play a vital role in breaking down barriers to mental health treatment. When we care for our loved ones, we can provide emotional support and validation to help them feel heard and seen. We can assist with research and appointments for professional help, encourage engagement in therapy sessions or support groups, and accompany them to medical appointments if needed.

Online therapy can be a great alternative for those who can't access traditional in-person treatment due to geographic or financial constraints. With the help of a mental health expert, individuals can gain insights into their own well-being in order to facilitate a positive transformation. When we make mental health treatment more accessible, we can create an environment of safety and support for everyone.

Is Mental Health Stigma Preventing You From Getting Help?

Recent details indicates online therapy may be as effective as in-person treatment. Adherence rates for online therapy have been reported to be as high as 82%, suggesting that it's a viable alternative for those who need mental health care. Increased accessibility and confidentiality can eliminate the stigma associated with seeking help and allow people to seek treatment no matter where they are.

Reshaping modern attitudes towards mental health is an important step to ensure everyone has access to quality care and support. By encouraging people to seek help when needed, we can create a culture of understanding and acceptance around mental health. With the right mindset and resources, we can create a society that promotes help-seeking behavior and mental well-being.


Stigma is an unfortunate byproduct of fear and misunderstanding. Even in today's increasingly open-minded society, mental health care is often still seen as taboo. However, we can reduce stigma by promoting positive social norms and encouraging help-seeking behavior. Online therapy can help open doors and destigmatize mental health treatment.

It's essential that we work together to create a world where mental health is taken seriously and treated with the same respect and seriousness as physical health. By raising awareness, improving access, and normalizing help-seeking behavior, we can make a huge impact on the state of mental health in our society.

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