Stigma is a word that is used a lot, so consequently we hear it often. But just what exactly is stigma, to whom does it apply and how does it affect individuals, groups of people and sometimes entire communities?

Stigma is a mark of disgrace that sets a person, group of people and sometimes whole communities apart. In the context of mental health, when a person is labeled by their illness or condition they are seen as part of a stereotyped group of people and negative thoughts and attitudes are created. These misconceptions create prejudice and that prejudice usually leads to discrimination.

Did you know that there are  three main types of stigma? These are Institutional StigmaPublic or Social/Societal Stigma and Self-Stigma.

Institutional Stigma refers to an organization’s policies or practice of expressing negative attitudes and beliefs. Surprizingly, one can experience this at organizations that are supposedly in the business of providing care for those with mental health issues. How odd. For example, stigma is reflected in the use of medical model or clinical terms, such as “a schizophrenic.” A person is not “a schizophrenic.” A person may happen to be experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia. This is where appropriate language comes into play.  It is also why it is so very important to be mindful of what one says and how one says it.

Public or Social/Societal Stigma refers to the attitudes and beliefs of the general public towards people with mental health challenges or their family members. For example, the public may assume that people with psychiatric conditions are violent and dangerous. Media hype, the news and the internet oftentimes perpetuate this myth.

Finally, Self-stigma occurs when an inividual buys into society’s misconceptions about mental health and folks who have mental health challenges. By internalizing these negative beliefs, individuals or groups may experience feelings of shame, blame, anger, guilt, hopelessness and even despair. These feelings keep them from seeking help, social support, employment or treatment for their mental health conditions.

Does any of this sound familiar or resonate with you? Have you been subjected to or subjected yourself to stigma? How was that for you? How did it make you feel? What if anything were you able to do about it?  Let me know. I would like to hear about your experiences. Talk to you again soon from Kozi’s Korner. Peace & Blessings.