Breaking Down Social Norms In The Field Of Psychology

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated May 14, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

No one should have to live in silence when it comes to their mental health. We may all have the capacity for resilience, but sometimes, we need a bit of help along the way. That may be why understanding social norms and how they can affect access to treatment can be so important. At its core, this is generally about breaking down internal and external barriers that may prevent people from getting the care they deserve. Social stigma around mental health may still exist in many cultures, potentially leading individuals to feel shame and fear when seeking help or even talking about their challenges openly with friends or family members. For many, it can be easier to reach out for professional guidance through an online therapy platform, rather than visiting a therapist’s office in person.

Is mental health stigma preventing you from getting help?

The impact of stigma on mental health treatment

Mental health can be an incredibly important topic affecting millions of people worldwide, but it can sometimes be 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

Shame and embarrassment may be among the most significant effects of stigma on individuals seeking help for mental health concerns. The persistent societal messaging that mental health disorders may be a sign of weakness can make it difficult for individuals to ask for help and may even cause them to feel ashamed of their challenges. 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.

Fear of discrimination

Another common effect of stigma surrounding mental health may be 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 disorders could 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

Social isolation may also be a key effect of stigma surrounding mental health concerns. Individuals who are afraid of the stigma attached to mental health struggles may be reluctant to discuss their experiences with others, potentially 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.

Societal impacts

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

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources. Support is available 24/7.

The stigma surrounding mental health can have far-reaching consequences, and the importance of overcoming this stigma may not 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 toward breaking down the barriers that can prevent people from receiving the care they need.

Social norms that may influence stigma

Social norms can have a powerful impact on how we perceive mental health treatment. Many of these norms can be deeply entrenched, which can make it difficult for people to access the care they deserve.

Traditional gender roles

Traditional gender roles can be a barrier to mental health treatment. For example, men are often expected to be stoic and unemotional, sometimes making it difficult for them to seek help. In many cases, men may believe 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 create a more open, accepting atmosphere for people of all genders who are seeking mental health treatment.

Cultural and religious beliefs

Cultural and religious beliefs can also play a major role in how we think about mental health treatment. Some people believe that mental health disorders can be 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 discourage seeking professional help altogether.

Misconceptions about mental health treatment

Misconceptions about mental health treatment may 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 a fad. In reality, professional therapy and other mental health treatments can be incredibly effective at helping people overcome their struggles and lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.

Overcoming social norms

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

Improving access to mental health treatment generally requires a concerted effort from individuals, healthcare providers, and policymakers. We may need to 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 may we be able to make a lasting impact on the state of mental health in our society. 

Encouraging people to seek help through positive social norms

There may be a number of ways to foster positive social norms around mental health and encourage people to seek help.

Promoting mental health literacy

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 may be 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.

Emphasizing the importance of self-care

We should also generally emphasize the importance of self-care. A 2021 clinical study indicates self-care may restore proper balance in our bodies and minds, potentially 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 may also support mental health days and flexible scheduling so that people have the space they need to take care of their mental health.

Discussing stories of recovery

We can discuss stories of recovery and resilience to show seeking help can be 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 generally encourage more open conversations about mental health online and in our communities and create safe spaces for people to discuss their stories.

Supporting loved ones

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.

Benefits of online therapy

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 licensed mental health professional, 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.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Is mental health stigma preventing you from getting help?

Effectiveness of online therapy

According to a 2022 meta-analysis, online therapy can be as effective as in-person therapy in treating a wide variety of mental health disorders and concerns. Both in-person and online therapy can be valid and acceptable treatment options for those interested in seeking professional help with their mental health.


Stigma can be a byproduct of fear and misunderstanding. Even in today's increasingly open-minded society, mental health care can sometimes be seen as taboo. However, we can reduce stigma by promoting positive social norms and encouraging people to seek the help they deserve. Online therapy may open doors and destigmatize mental health treatment.
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