noun ( pl. stigmas or esp. in sense 2 stigmata)
“a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person : the stigma of mental disorder | to be a nonreader carries a social stigma.”
Lately I have been doing a lot of reading and studying. The one word that always seems to creep itself into lectures, articles and textbooks is “stigma.”
People are always talking about stigma or stigmatizing attributes. I always read and hear about the “mental health stigma” or “the stigma of sex trade workers.” You know something though, for me, I don’t believe in stigma. I don’t believe in it because I would never want to be portrayed as the victim. I would never want people to see me as Ervin Goffman puts it, “discrediting” or “discreditable” according to social standards.
Stigma is something created by societal perceptions on what is to believed right and wrong, moral and immoral, honorable and dishonorable. But really, why would I want to declare that I suffer from a stigma. Sure, I may have suffered from anxiety or PTSD… but that does not mean I am to be discredited as a functioning individual.
I believe the concept of stigma just creates stigma; it is both the cause and the effect. Who has the right to say that those that experience mental illness suffer from something that is either discrediting or discreditable within society? Only individuals should be able to define who they are and should lay the foundations for how they wish to be seen by others. Society should not make those definitions or create those foundations.
Maybe I am wrong in all this. Maybe the concept of stigma portrays certain individuals as deserving help or deserving to be saved. Then again, who are we to define who deserves to be saved based on society’s standards of what is right and what is wrong? I believe that we should empower those that suffer from any so-called stigma. We shouldn’t define them as something that is not the societal norm.
Stigma, the use of this word should just disappear.
Updated January 29, 2012: Well, I just finished attending a workshop on how to reduce stigma and rebuild capacity. After attending this workshop, I have gained a new understanding. Even though as an individual, I do not like stigma and do not want to say “I have a stigma”, I must not deny those that say such thing exists. Stigma sort of creates that blatant in your face message that say “something is wrong” within society and when people who carry the stigma are made to feel a certain way (usually negative), then that needs to change. For the in-group, those with the stigma, it tells them “it’s not your fault” and for the out-group, those without the stigma, it tells them, “something needs to change.” We, as individuals and human beings, should not allow groups to exist in society to be made feel less than or inferior to other groups. We should all be free and equal to live amongst each other without fear and without fear of judgement. I hope this makes sense?!