Today marks the close of Mental Health Awareness Month. This May, APHA and its American Journal of Public Health collaborated with the Carter Center on a very specific aspect of mental health: stigma.

Mental health stigma refers to society’s regard to someone due to their mental health status.

“In this case, people with mental illness are marked as different, and more importantly, are devalued, encounter prejudice and experience discrimination because of their illness,” researcher Bernice Pescosolido, director of the Indiana Consortium for Mental Health Services Research, told Public Health Newswire.

During the month, the American Journal of Public Health published its very first themed issue dedicated to mental health stigma. A public health concern championed by former first lady Rosalynn Carter, the AJPH issue included more than 30 articles featuring new research and commentaries from researchers and experts in the field. The issue addressed topics ranging from mental health stigma in the transgender community to a global analysis of mental health stigma to mental health stigma law.

“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,” said Carter, who founded the Carter Center’s Mental Health Program in 1991, announcing the journal issue.

To continue the conversation around mental health stigma, the Carter Center later hosted a panel discussion featuring Carter, former Congressman Tony Coelho and center director Thomas Bornemann.

“I have epilepsy and I’m a prime example of stigma that has occurred over the years,” said Coelho during the Carter Center event. “Everyone who wanted me to go work for them said ‘no’ because every work application had the word ‘epilepsy’ on it. Then I lost my driver’s license and I lost my insurance. Stigma what it does to you, it destroys you.”

New research published in the AJPH issue underscored the need for more work to be done to address and reduce stigma, but also pointed to some positive trends. Pescosolido’s study, included in the journal issue, for example, finds that while stigma still persists, the societal understanding and endorsement of treatment for mental illness is growing globally.

“We’ve broken the institutional barrier and that’s a big, big, breakthrough,” said Bornemann. “I’m very confident that we’ll continue to make progress as we go forward.”