Denver Launches Innovative Public Health Campaign Against Mental Health Stigma

DENVER – The Denver Department of Public Health & Environment (DDPHE) is launching an innovative public health campaign targeting one of the biggest barriers Denverites with mental health conditions face — stigma.

What You Say Matters is a public health campaign to educate the public about stigma and invite Denverites to stop the stigma around mental health conditions. The campaign is based on a year of research into the experiences of more than 1,000 people in Denver. The full report can be viewed online.

“Many in our community are struggling with their mental health, especially over the past few years. We need to do everything we can to make sure our friends and family get the help they need – that starts with reducing stigma,” Mayor Michael B. Hancock said. “This campaign elevates the voices and stories of people who’ve been impacted by stigma around mental health and shines a direct light on the lived experiences for people with mental health conditions.”

While conversations around mental health are becoming more common, stigma remains one of the biggest barriers for people with mental health conditions from seeking help. Stigma is a negative belief, treatment or prejudice toward a group of people often based on stereotypes or assumptions. Studies in Colorado and across the U.S. have found that poor mental health is on the rise and accessing care is still a struggle for many. 

For people with mental health conditions — a mental, behavioral or emotional disorder that’s seriously interfered with someone’s major life activities in the past year — the cost of not getting treatment can be extreme. The likelihood of mental health crises and fatal outcomes such as suicide and overdose can increase when someone doesn’t or can’t access treatment and support services. Common examples of mental health conditions are major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. 

“Fear of what others might think is a frequent barrier to care for people with mental health conditions. Talking about mental health is becoming more common, but we don’t always talk about how stigma can come up in conversations,” said DDPHE Executive Director Bob McDonald. “It’s important to understand negative stereotypes and sayings can make it harder for people with mental health conditions to talk about their own experiences, even from loved ones who want to help.”

DDPHE’s What You Say Matters campaign points out everyday occurrences of stigma. Stigma can come from anyone and often isn’t meant to hurt people. DDPHE hopes to raise awareness of what every day stigma looks like and sounds like. The campaign shows how you can stop spreading stigma around mental health conditions. 

The What You Say Matters campaign launched this month in print and digital advertisements across Denver. Additionally, What You Say Matters offers resources the community to learn more about mental health stigma and fight back.

“There are so many common phrases and sayings that stereotype mental health conditions. People may not realize they’re saying something hurtful and stigmatizing,” said McDonald. “We hope through this campaign, Denver residents will recognize and fight stigma in their own lives by carefully considering the words they choose when talking about mental health.”

To learn more about the campaign, visit

 Research Findings

Research for the What You Say Matters campaign was conducted by Analytics & Insights Matter, on behalf of DDPHE. The research combined qualitative and quantitative methods to understand where stigma comes from, how it impacts people with mental health conditions and how to reduce stigma. Researchers found in Denver stigma around mental health conditions were common and came from a range of sources. Stigma perpetuated by health care professionals and staff as well as first responders has the most negative impact on people with mental health conditions, the report found. The full findings and campaign recommendations can be found in the final report.


  1. You say it is “stigma”. It is not, it is those of us us accustomed to directing that prejudice. those of us accustomed to promulgating it, those of us accustomed to repeating it.

    Harold A Maio

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