The words we use in everyday conversation may hurt people experiencing mental health conditions. This is stigma in action. Words that minimize what someone is feeling, or that make light of someone’s experience, can be a big barrier for the person to seek the help they might need. What you say matters. Reducing stigma around mental health conditions in our communities starts with the words we use. Increasing awareness of stigma can reduce hurtful language and lower barriers to accessing mental health services.
What you say matters. Learn the right thing to say.
Your words may hurt people experiencing mental health conditions. Instead of spreading stigma, show your support, love, kindness, and empathy by choosing your words more carefully.
Use this guide as a starting point to voice your support in a more considerate and thoughtful way. What is listed below isn’t comprehensive, but shows you a few ways you can avoid every day instances of mental health stigma.
Using a mental health condition as an adjective:
• “The weather is so bipolar.”
• “You’re being so OCD.”
Instead, Try Saying
Using a condition as an adjective can minimize or stigmatize someone’s experience. Try saying what you mean without comparing it to a behavioral health condition.
“You sound like a lunatic.”
“You’re acting psycho.”
“Talk me through some of the thoughts you’re having.”
“Can you tell me how you are feeling?”
“You seem upset; is there anything I can help you with?”
“You need therapy.”
“Have you thought about talking about this with someone who can help?”
“Have you sought help?”
“Are you comfortable seeking help?”
“Mom is so dysfunctional.”
“Mom is feeling a lot of emotions at once.”
“Mom is dealing with a lot.”
“Mom seems upset; how can I help?”
“Get yourself together.”
“You are not alone. How can I be there for you?”
“Of course you’re depressed.
Everyone is these days.”
“Having depression is real and you are not alone in this experience.”
“You’ll be fine.”
“What do you need to feel better?”
“It’s powerful to feel things fully.”
“Therapists aren’t real doctors.”
“I’m proud of you for seeking the help you need.”
“I’m so proud of you for taking care of yourself. You’re important to me.”
“Things could be worse.”
“What you’re going through sounds really difficult. You are not alone.”
“It’s all in your head.”
“Your experience is valid.”
“Your feelings are real.”
“Have you tried acupuncture/ yoga/ going for a walk?”
“How can I support you?”
“I know what you’re going through.”
“How are you feeling?”
“I may not know exactly what you are going through, but you are not alone.”
“What’s wrong with you?”
“How are you feeling?”
“I want you to feel safe with me. How can I be there for you?”
“Everything happens for a reason.”
“Let’s figure this out together.”
“I may not know why this is happening, but we can get through it together.”
“I’m here for you.”
“You need to figure this out.”
“What do you need to feel better?”
For those with mental health conditions, other people’s stigmatizing beliefs and language can have a huge impact on everyday life. Stigma often prevents people with mental health conditions from getting equitable treatment or access to care.
What You Say Matters is a public health campaign aimed at educating Denver residents on the impact stigmatizing language has on those with mental health conditions. We hope to shine a spotlight on everyday phrases that contribute to stigma and provide alternatives that uplift and support those with mental health conditions.
Below you will find resources including a fact sheet, community brochure, and language guide.
We hope to get your help distributing these materials throughout your communities.
Educational and Community Resources
Below are some important resources for medical providers, community leaders, teachers, law enforcement, and anti-stigma allies/advocates.
*We are working on additional resources that will be added later, please continue to check back here for more information.
Thanks to our partners for helping to spread the word: What You Say Matters
365Health.org | 303-698-4455
Healthcare, health screenings and resources. Hosts regular in-person health fairs and offers digital resources.
- Offers free, digital assessments for anxiety, depression and stress
- Offers free and discounted screenings for health conditions including anxiety and depression, diabetes risk, cancer risk, blood work, and more
- Offers resources for stress management, finding providers, best health practices, and more
Services are available for free and at discounted rates
Colorado Coalition for the Homeless
ColoradoCoalition.org | 303-293-2217
Housing, healthcare and support service provider for people experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity. Housing and healthcare locations in Denver, Metro Denver, and Colorado.
- Offers affordable housing and supportive housing for families, couples, and individuals
- Offers healthcare services including behavioral health, primary care, pharmacy, dental, pediatric/children’s care, substance use recovery care, and more
- Offers support services including childcare, employment support, veterans services, and more
Accepts Medicaid. Services are available for free or discounted rates depending on eligibility.
Colorado Crisis Services
For help with any mental health, substance use, or emotional concern, call Colorado Crisis Services at 844- 493-TALK (8255), or text TALK to 38255.
Heartland Mental Health
HeartlandMentalHealth.org | 303-830-2130
Drop-in and outpatient mental health care services. Locations in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.
- Offers a drop-in, community mental health care center with support groups, classes, and outings. The drop-in center has a food bank, clothing bank, computer and internet access, and discounted lunch on Tuesdays
- Offers outpatient mental health treatment services including individual counseling, medication management, and more
Accepts Colorado Medicaid (Health First Colorado) for Adults in Denver, Adams, Arapahoe, Aurora and Douglas Counties.
Mile High Behavioral Healthcare
MileHighBehavioralHealthcare.org | 303-825-8113
Provider of behavioral health care and resources. Locations in Denver, Metro Denver, and Summit County.
- Offers specialized behavioral health care programs for veterans, men, women, LGBTQ+, youth, and more
- Offers housing support resources, substance use programs, court-to-community support, and more
Find behavioral health care in Colorado that is meaningful to you.
Servicios de la Raza
ServiciosDeLaRaza.org | 720-410-7108
Bilingual human services provider for Denver’s Hispanic/Latino community.
- Offers a range of behavioral health therapy services in Spanish and English
- Offers specialized services for youth, victims of domestic violence and crime, and people reentering the community after incarceration
- Offers support programs for healthcare, employment and financial coaching, emergency services and more
WellPower.org | 303-504-7900
Provides mental health, behavioral health, and well-being services for children, youth, and adults. Resources in Denver and Metro Denver.
- Offers in-person and virtual services to support mental health and well-being
- Specialty programs for youth, children, Spanish-speaking patients, Denver’s Hispanic and Latino community, HIV-positive patients, deaf and hard-of-hearing patients, and more
- Offers employment, housing, and case management support services.
The Denver Department of Public Health & Environment (DDPHE) is embarking on a new effort to reduce stigma related to behavioral health conditions. Stigma is known to be a barrier to early intervention and access to treatment and support for behavioral health concerns. The Anti-Stigma Campaign Project aims to engage with Denver community members to better understand stigma associated with substance use, suicide, and mental health conditions to ultimately reduce stigma.
DDPHE has partnered with a team of organizations to complete the research and execution of the campaign. The lead organization is Analytics and Insights Matter (AIM), bringing research design, statistical analysis and project management with Thomas Barrett, PhD. AIM is joined by the Arrow Performance Group (APG) which conducted informative interviews and focus groups, along with Circuit Media, the marketing and media campaign partner. The AIM team worked closely with DDPHE to ensure that Denver’s diverse community voices were heard in the development and implementation of this project.
- Measure baselines of knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs that result in stigma associated with behavioral health conditions in Denver
- Increase empathetic responses and decrease adverse responses to behavioral health conditions in the general population
- Reduce stigma as a barrier to accessing services for people with behavioral health conditions and their loved ones
Denver’s Anti-Stigma Campaign activities fall in these four phases. Phases 1 and 2 have been completed:
Phase 1 of the project is the Formative Assessment. The Formative Assessment studied recent efforts, conducted focus groups and interviews with stakeholders, developed and conducted a survey of various populations to measure stigma, and developed a final report.
Read the Phase 1 - Formative Assessment Final Report(PDF, 1MB)
The Formative Assessment Final Report contains complex graphs and tables. If you would like to speak with someone about the contents of the tables or graphs, please email Marion.Rorke@Denvergov.org.
Phase 2 of the Anti-Stigma Campaign project is message development and the development of marketing and advertising plans. A contractor developed and tested messages with different audiences based on formative assessment activities, assessed language and cultural barriers, determined best channels for campaign.
Phase 3 of the Anti-Stigma Campaign project is activation of the campaign. The phase includes dissemination of messages, collection of digital metrics regarding potential success, monitoring reach, and conducting assessments for any needed adjustments.
Phase 4 of the Anti-Stigma Campaign project is evaluation. During this phase, the team will compile and analyze data to determine campaign awareness, understanding, and effectiveness, including a second dissemination of the survey to measure changes, followed by a summary report.
The Denver Anti-Stigma Campaign looks forward to learning from and building upon recent efforts focused on substance use, suicide, and mental health. Reducing stigma is one of the many strategies we can do collectively to improve Denver’s behavioral health.