What is Stigma?
Updated: Jul 25, 2019
Stigma (noun): a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.
Stigma often intrudes the lives of people with mental health conditions. Whether through social interactions (friends, family, and coworkers), cultural expectations, or even self-imposed judgement, stigma yields negative stereotypes and impedes the recovery process.
What contributes to social stigma results mainly from its misconceptions and the lack of education. Many associate shame with mental health issues which often leads to a person being unwilling or uncomfortable with addressing their issues head on. For example, in the Asian community Model Minority is the notion that Asians want to live up to the fact they are good examples of society – high income, quality education, low criminality, and great internal stability. This situation often leads to an unwillingness to discuss mental health.
Many cultures contend with mental health issues by using tools outside of the traditional ones offered by modern medicine. Those often include religion, family, and friends.
Believing that people with mental illnesses can simply “pull themselves out of it” results in patients feeling weak or incapable of combatting their condition. Believing that those with mental illnesses are violent or “crazy” only leaves people hopeless and disappointed with themselves. All of these myths about mental health create a social stigma surrounding its discussion and acceptance, which ultimately only hurts the patient.
Often, individuals with a mental illness are faced with multiple intersecting layers of discrimination as a result of their mental illness and identity. For example, a woman with a mental illness may experience discrimination due to sexism, as well as her illness, and a person of color with a mental condition may experience discrimination due to racism in addition to their mental illness.
If we are to face stigmas we will need to create and hold space in order to normalize mental health conversations. Those will include among others, education about mental health, encouraging equality between physical and mental health, choosing empowerment over shame, etc.