The dictionary defines stigma as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.
Judging from this definition, I am certain that this is a word that none of us would like to be associated with and will do whatever we can to protect ourselves from being stigmatised. I have taken some time to think about the concept of ‘STIGMA’, and I have broken it down into 6 words:
Ignorance, Misconceptions & Assumptions are served up by society, and then Shame, Trauma & Guilt are experienced by the individual or individuals. Society becomes the bully and the individuals become the victims. Stigma is an ugly business, and it needs to be stamped out.
There was a time when people were very discrete about cancer. When I was a teenager and lived in Nigeria, I can recall how people would keep a cancer diagnosis top secret. It wasn’t spoken about! Now, it is spoken about openly and without the worry of wondering what people might think. There are so many things that have been stigmatised over the years which are now acceptable and understood in our societies. Talking about these issues and eradicating ignorance is what leads to the removal of stigma.
Stigma is a barrier to recovery in Mental Health!
When we think about the words Shame, Trauma & Guilt, does it sit right with you and me that people who are suffering should also have to endure these 3 things as well? Imagine having the Flu (a physical illness) and being made to feel ashamed, guilty, and traumatised. It sounds so silly!
Sadly, the responsibility lies on the shoulders of those who are suffering to break down this barrier by talking about their feelings, thoughts, and struggles. It shouldn’t have to be that way, but it is. That said, our communities need to be educated. Ignorance is not bliss – it is a disease!
Let’s look at the definitions of the words. Ignorance, Misconception & Assumption:
A Lack of Knowledge or Information.
A View or Opinion that is Incorrect because it is based on Faulty Thinking or Understanding.
A Thing that is Accepted as True or Certain to Happen without Proof.
I have defined these words to show how negative they are. I would not want to be described as someone who bases her thoughts and actions on a lack of knowledge or information, faulty thinking or understanding and accept something as true without evidence. Would you?
We all have Mental Health and anyone of us can become ill at any time, just like it is with our Physical Health. It is normal to experience Poor Mental Health. We therefore need to start normalising this in our conversations, language, behaviour, and attitudes.
Our Homes, Schools and Workplaces should be a place where we feel safe to speak into the listening of those around us so that we can get the help and support we need at the soonest.
What if we could turn those 6 words around where:
Shame was replaced with Support
Trauma was replaced with Trust
Ignorance was replaced with Insight
Guilt was replaced with Genuine
Misconceptions was replaced with Mindful
Assumptions was replaced with Acknowledgement
We could create the Word ‘MASTIG’ and Stamp Out ‘STIGMA’!