Simple Definition: a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something
b) A mark of shame or discredit
c) An identifying mark of characteristic; specifically: a diagnostic sign of a disease
Stigma is a monster with many tentacles. It is shaming at its worst. It affects more people than you or I could ever know. I find it peculiar that with all of the awareness today that it is still so prevalent. Take something as simple as our lexicon of speech. One day I read a tweet that commented that the weather was bipolar; recently I watched a movie where a young child was labeled as bipolar for something as “normal” as being friends one day but not the next. I would hope the writers were ignorant of perpetuating stigma as opposed to showing a callous disregard for those affected by mental health issues.
Those of us who have neurological conditions or any condition that falls into the realm of mental health find we are systematically trivialized, mocked and dehumanized.
The trend of using a medical diagnosis as an insult is incredibly belittling to those that actually suffer from said diagnosis. I don’t understand why people think its ok to call someone OCD because they like things a certain way or bipolar because they change their mind or schitzo because you don’t like their behaviour. How offensive would it be if we used cancer or diabetes the same way?
Many of the people who live on the margins of society have mental health issues; they are vulnerable to exploitation, violence, addiction. They are treated as pariahs inducing society to view them with disgust and fear. This fosters a derogatory self-worth cycle that may ultimately destroy them.
Is it any wonder that many of us hide our struggles, disown our reality and live in fear of discovery and judgement by a society that has such rigid parameters?
Advocates encourage awareness, hoping it will bring compassion and erase the stigma that follows us. It is often said others can’t truly love you until you love yourself. Stigma makes loving yourself so much more difficult. Being told daily who you are does not fit in with societies expectations or is not good enough is damaging, but I can see a shift happening. We are starting to recognize all that makes us different is not necessarily worse. We are starting to celebrate the positives and find ways to negate some of the “negatives”.
I believe it is the accumulative voices we raise advocating for ourselves, our friends and family that will demand respect of us individually and as a whole.
When we value our contribution to this world and cherish ourselves in our entirety we will no longer fear stigma from without or within.