STIGMA is a word that gets a lot of attention within the mental health field. The word stigma is an ugly-six letter word that I have learned to hate. I visualize stigma as a large, furry creature that constricts people in the shadows of fear. The creature does not discriminate; it seeks all ethnic and racial groups, socioeconomic classes, genders, and ages. Stigma is the ball and chain that prevents individuals from walking into resource and support centers; it is the duct tape over someone’s mouth that prevents the person from yelling for help. It is the cage that makes people feel trapped in their bodies or minds.
I think you get the point. Stigma is a social construction.
As constricting as the ugly, hairy creature of stigma may be, the experience of stigma is subjective. Each person experiences the existence and level of stigma differently. An individual who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder may experience stigma differently than someone with depression depending on his or her environment and context. However, just because an experience of stigma may be experienced differently from person to person, stigma can still be experienced similarly on a grander scale.
A conversation about stigma can last a long time. However, only talking about something never actually accomplishes much of anything in the greater scheme of things. The words in the conversation must provoke feelings and emotions. These feelings and emotions must then motivate action.
Utilizing this idea, the simple act of inaction is just as powerful as an action itself. For instance, when I hear someone being discriminatory towards an individual that is experiencing an episode of depression, by me not saying anything in their defense (an inaction), I am still acting. Any reasons or motivations I have for not acting (such as to avoid social backlash) actually perpetuate the stigma and silence surrounding mental illness.
Stigma can whither as long as we (consumers, clients, mental health professionals and society) as a whole, stand together and say enough is enough. We will not let the ugly hairy creature control us any longer.
“It takes courage to share your story & compassion to hear someone else’s”—from the mouth of Brittany Moso