What Does Someone With A Mental Health Condition Look Like?

By: Amy Brant, CMWN Intern

Often times, people in our society attach a judgment to an individual based on the way they look, what they wear, the people they hang out with, their actions etc. This is typically what you would call a stereotype. Unfortunately, we as imperfect human beings, stereotype others. Sometimes we don’t even realize we are doing it. Although it may seem innocent and meaningless, when you develop a certain negative perception of someone, your actions, behavior, and over-all demeanor change automatically towards that individual. This can be rather degrading.

So, let me ask you… What does someone who has a mental health condition look like? Take a few moments and really think to yourself. How you would label someone who has a mental health condition?

The Perception

Most people who are asked this question may respond with emo/goth, homeless, poor, rough around the edges, not put together, rigid, on-edge, not normal, and other negative adjectives. Interestingly, in 2015, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, also known as NAMI, reports that in a given year, roughly 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience a mental health condition. Also, approximately 13% of U.S. children (ages 8-15) have a mental health condition [1].  In other words, every person in the U.S. should closely know at least one person with a mental health condition. Now I ask, how would you feel if I told you that your neighbor, who owns a 3 car garage, possesses an executive position at a company, and is expecting his or her first child in a couple of months, has a mental health condition?

Presently, people of our society have this preconceived idea that people with mental health conditions are incapable of success. Also, the thought that they have a life that lacks the opportunity for growth is quite common. The stereotypes we associate with people who have mental health conditions cause these impressions. Furthermore, individuals with mental health conditions have been perceived as socially unequipped, having more encounters with the law, living in squalor, and so on.

Although that can possibly be the case for some, it does not apply to the vast majority of people living with mental health conditions. The 2016 Colorado Health Report Card mentions that 41% of people who have mental health conditions do not seek treatment and/ or acknowledge their condition because of the stigma that is chained to having a mental health condition [2]. Nonetheless, someone very close to you could have a mental health condition and you would never know it.

What To Do?

Given these points, it is evident people are living with mental health conditions all around us. In today’s society, most people have been taught, from a young age, not to judge a book by its cover. However, it is normal for us to acknowledge difference, it is normal for us to make assumptions, it is normal to stereotype others. The point here; take a step back from these notions, realize them for what they are (a preconceived idea that is most likely based on no legitimate or credible support) and be mindful of how you proceed with your actions, words, gestures, etc. As a matter of fact, we live in a world full of neurological diversity. Accept this and the chains of stigma on mental health will begin to wear.

Now, let me ask you again. What does someone with a mental health condition look like? How about…

A person.

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To read more about the stigma on mental health conditions, visit:


[1] NAMI website:


[2] Colorado Health website:


Stereotyping Individuals With Mental Health Conditions
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Amanda Kearney-Smith

I founded the Network as the Executive Director in 2011 and, before that, I was a program director at Mental Health Colorado. My educational background is in Developmental Psychology, but living with bipolar disorder has drawn me to this work. I'm most passionate about protecting the civil rights and dignity of others. In my free time, I love reading, practicing yoga, and spending time with my family here and in Illinois.

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