The dictionary suggests that stigma is a “mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as on one’s reputation.” Since the days when the 'mentally ill' were locked away and 'alcoholics and addicts' were considered unworthy of help, stigma against people with brain diseases has been deemed acceptable in society. Today, the treatment settings have changed, and science plays a larger role in the outcomes, but sadly, stigma continues to dictate attitudes, and attitudes dictate resources.
Stigma is not just a matter of using the wrong word or action. Stigma is about disrespect. It is the use of negative labels to identify a person living with mental illness or substance use disorder. Do you know that many people would rather tell employers they committed a petty crime and served time in jail, than admit to being in a psychiatric hospital?
Stigma toward people with substance use and/or mental disorders and their families is manifested by bias, distrust, stereotyping, fear, embarrassment, anger, avoidance and/or violence. In its most overt form, stigma results in outright discrimination and abuse.
The stigma of mental illness and addiction is real, painful, and damaging to the lives of people living with these brain disorders. Fear of stigma, and the resulting discrimination, discourages individuals and their families from getting the treatment and support they need to lead healthy, normal lives. More tragically, stigma deprives people of their dignity and interferes with their full participation in society.
Do you know that stigma?
Leads others to avoid living, socializing or working with, renting to, or employing people with mental disorders, especially severe disorders such as schizophrenia?
Reduces patients’ access to resources and opportunities (e.g., housing, jobs) and leads to low self-esteem, isolation, and hopelessness?
Can Result in limited or inadequate insurance coverage for mental health services?
Prevent some pharmaceutical companies from working to develop new treatments?
Deters the public from seeking, and wanting to pay for, necessary care?
Discourages some doctors from treating people suffering from addiction or mental illness?
Can cause families and friends to turn their backs on people with mental illness?