Knowledge is Power by Sara Jacobovici, my guest blogger today. Thanks so much for your input, Sara.
The definition of stigma and the history of that definition is painful.
“A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.
‘the stigma of mental disorder’
|synonyms:||shame, disgrace, dishonor, humiliation|
a archaic : a scar left by a hot iron : brand
b : a mark of shame or discredit : stain <bore the stigma of cowardice>
c : an identifying mark or characteristic; specifically : a specific diagnostic sign of a disease”
A more modern and politically correct definition is: A set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people has about something.
It’s time to tell the Emperor he has no clothes! Stigma comes from fear; fear of the unknown and fear of the familiar. This paradox and ignorance feeds stigma. When we see someone else suffering, it is too familiar. This triggers fear of the unknown;” I can be that way too!” Fear is irrational and bypasses any of our higher brain functioning. So in other words, stigma exists as a result of an irrational fear.
Learning can empower us and weaken stigma. It is our responsibility to learn more about anything that we see manifest itself as suffering in our fellow human being. Just because we are also vulnerable to that suffering does not mean that distancing ourselves, isolating the individual(s) who are suffering and cutting ourselves off from that suffering, is the solution. On the contrary, it just makes things worse.
How can we shift the tide of stigma?
- Start with yourself first. Take an honest look at how you see and relate to others around you who are suffering from mental illness. Do you make assumptions, avoid them or their family members, rationalize your behavior?
- Do you feel uncomfortable?
- Listen to these behaviors and thoughts and ask yourself what are they trying to tell you?
What do you need to learn from this? It is the person who is suffering from the mental illness. That person is not the mental illness.
The answers can be found through further questions, questions that will connect and engage you to others and in this way help move you in the right direction.
Take a friend or someone in your neighborhood that you know who has a family member with a mental health illness out for coffee. Find out from that person the truth about mental illness. Once you have the information you need, you can begin to make choices. No one is asking you to fund research or lobby the government (although these may be ways you choose to contribute and participate), but one small change in your attitude can yield big results in decreasing the stigma that exists.
- When you are in a group and someone begins to talk ignorantly about mental illness, quietly and respectfully point out the facts versus the myths.
- Go back for that second cup of coffee and bring a new friend with you.
- Volunteer at a community event for mental health awareness.
Remember knowledge is powerful, ignorance is destructive. Be on the side of knowledge and watch how you can make a change.