“The Word Stigma Should Not Be Used in Mental Health Campaigns”

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“I feel uncomfortable about the use of the word stigma in mental health campaigns. But, I haven’t been able to put my finger on what my disquiet actually is,” writes Mike Smith, vice-chair of the International Mental Health Collaborating Network in The Guardian. Smith then explores the meaning of the word stigma, and suggests that, instead of talking about ending stigma, we should be talking about ending hatred and bigotry.

“The religious and historical roles of madness in society are further reinforced with elaborations in these dictionaries of the stigmata, a further derivation of the word stigma in medicine, meaning a ‘mark that is a characteristic of a defect or disease’ – hardly very progressive and politically challenging,” writes Smith. “The focus of our efforts should be upon society and the perpetrators of this discrimination, not the subjects of it. If we accept the concepts of parity of esteem, then we should describe not stigma, but rather bigotry, hatred, unlawful and unjust discrimination. Accepting the application of the word stigma reinforces this prejudice and does nothing to challenge it. We must challenge the status quo not accept it.”

The word ‘stigma’ should not be used in mental health campaigns (The Guardian, October 10, 2014)

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13 COMMENTS

    • The only people I’ve ever met in my life who’ve really grotesquely (illegally) disrespected me were “professionals” who saw that I’d been stigmatized with a “mental illness.”

      And subsequent doctors, who’ve been given my medical research with the medical proof I was misdiagnosed and poisoned by prior doctors, one of whom has now been been arrested by the FBI, do get very embarrassed at the psychiatric industry’s disingenuous behavior (although they do tend to be very impressed at my medicine research aptitude).

      Absolutely, the psychiatric practitioners are the most delusional and defamatory people in the world. I do wish they’d stop destroying the lives of millions of children. How pathetic an adult must be to target and attack innocent little children.

  1. Whatever one calls it, it is bad news, harmful, destructive, and sabotaging. The best way I have found to combat it is to call it out for what it is in the moment that you feel it, and let the chips fall where they may. I called it out repeatedly during my journey through the system, and of course it created more shaming, retaliation, and truly profound a blatant discrimination–acts of marginalization and downright cruelty. I was threatened and intimidated by the management of mental health and related agencies for telling them to their faces that they are being utterly discriminating, it was painfully obvious. To my mind, I had no choice but to stand in my truth and walk forward, until I was away from this nonsense (it’s criminal behavior, but their reasoning and behavior is nonsensical).

    From that, I found my path out of there, and with a lot more clarity than from before I began to experience this. I had to speak my truth in the moment, however, despite the immediate consequence, which there were. I sacrificed employment to speak my truth about discrimination in the system. To me, it felt like textbook stigma–they way I define it, born out of fear and discrimination–but I respect if that word isn’t strong enough for some, or if it feels co-opted or overused, whatever.

    For me, the most significant point is that the trauma from it all did heal with good, focused healing work, and I understand a lot more about how people and communities operate now. Thanks to this experience, it also makes perfect sense to me why the planet is in the shape it’s in, if these are the folks in charge. The kind of discrimination we’re talking about here is evil, in that it insists on power, competition, and sabotage, rather than healing, true blue support, and personal growth of its community members. And, they are the ones that get the funding, and are committing the crime of blatant and chronic discrimination. That’s what I call a closed system. New plan required.

  2. Fwiw, this is why I feel that the word ‘stigma’ does have its place in all of this.

    First of all, to me, the feeling this word conjures for me is just as vile as ‘discrimination,’ ‘oppression,’ ‘bigoted,’ ‘prejudice,’ and ‘shaming.’ I’m sure there are other words as such, which I feel are all connected.

    When a person has ingrained beliefs that lean in this direction (‘superior us’ vs. ‘marginalized them’), then many things are easily deduced, not the least of which is that this is someone who does not own their shadow. In plain English, I’d call this person ‘snobby.’ That’s how I define that word. I have found it to go hand-in-hand with stigma and discrimination. Snobs feel that marginalized populations SHOULD be marginalized, that’s their authentic belief. They don’t recognize how they are sabotaging their own reality, and therefore their community, with this belief.

    When a person does not recognize this internal split for themselves–which I feel we all have or have had to one degree or another, thanks to media and education programming, for example—and absolutely refuses to see this, then I feel this relationship becomes unsafe and toxic, and I would not give this person any power over me at all. I would walk away if I felt this from someone, for any reason. I find there is no reasoning, God knows I’ve tried repeatedly, only to hit the same hostile wall and go down the rabbit hole with them.

    No one is superior or inferior to anyone, or has power over anyone, unless we buy into a stigma, and not see it for the illusory projection that it is, all about the one throwing stigma, not about the intended target. We are we collective consciousness, and mirrors of one another, always. That’s my belief, in any case.

    Also, this is someone who would take someone’s life story and respond something like, “You are sick,” “you are weird,” for example. “You have a disorder,” “you’re maladjusted”—the list goes on and on. When I tell my story of healing to someone and the response starts with “You are…” followed by something that makes me feel like I don’t know what I’m talking about when I tell my own story, then I know I am in the presence of a negatively discriminating ‘us vs. them’ mentality, which to me, translates to stigma—that there is something wrong with me, that I lack self-awareness, and that I am marked–or should be–for what my truth happens to be.

    What I feel needs to be addressed is this notion that anyone is superior or inferior to another in character, I don’t care what a person’s wealth, position, education, or blue blood line is, character is character, and transcends all of this superficiality. That’s archaic and illusory, passed down from generation to generation, and what I feel causes so many problems when we find our empowerment. Being empowered is a big component of healing, and it is not taken well in such an intensely and dangerously insecure environment. That is very damaging! Integrity and truth is what we’re after, here, not perpetuating a split society of illusions.

    Not only can a person’s newfound sense of personal empowerment be threatening to others who are not prepared for this shift in relationship, but we can also become ego-centric and ‘drunk with power’ and lose sight of the collective goal. That continues the cycle of stigma and oppression. The collective is always undermined when there is not respect for absolutely everyone’s individuality.

    Everyone is qualified to be a student or client, leader or follower, as well as a teacher and healer. To me, that’s not stigmatizing us and them thinking, I believe we go in and out of these modes with each other fluidly and continuously, if we are mutually supportive, and no one has a hidden agenda of wanting power over others. That’s when the stigma will come out, and discrimination, along with the same power conflict, ensues yet again.

    As long as any story of extreme distress, healing, and transformation is not met with the utmost respect, as opposed to eliciting cynicism and marginalization, then how can social ills—that is, stigma, discrimination, and marginalization–ever heal at all?

    It always comes down to ‘integration.’ This starts within, until the ‘us vs. them’ within us all is seen for the sabotaging illusion that it is. If we integrate internally, then perhaps integration has a chance in the outer world.

  3. Scapegoats would be a more accurate word than stigma. After all, we are being blamed for many problems in society while major problems in society are being perpetuated by those unwilling to accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions. We do bear some responsibility for the difficulties life has presented us. But while most of us are willing to accept that we could have done some things better or differently, much of the mental health system seems to be obsessed with passing blame on us and away from the failures in the system. Among these failures – often due to putting the profits of drug companies above the welfare of the people -are: 1.Not Using the Koran algorithm – Studies have shown that up to 75% of individuals with a mental health diagnosis have medical conditions which are causing or exacerbating psychiatric disorders. “Many mental health programs are not staffed with physicians practiced in medical diagnosis and thus are unprepared to detect a large proportion of physical diseases in their patients. As described elsewhere, California’s state mental health programs fail to detect many diseases that could be causing or exacerbating psychiatric disorders”(A Medical Algorithm for Detecting Physical Disease in Psychiatric Patients, Hospital and Community Psychiatry Vol. 40 No. 12 Dec 1989] The Koran medical algorithm requires 10 items of medical history, measurement of blood pressure, and 16 laboratory tests (13 blood tests and 3 urine tests).
    2. Not having Trauma screenings part of every mental health examination. “Trauma exposure has been linked to later substance abuse, mental illness, increased risk of suicide, obesity, heart disease, and early death.” (Leading Change: A Plan for SAMHSA’s Roles and Actions 2011–2014 – pg. 8) Symptoms for trauma are nearly the same as for most mental illnesses – both major and minor] Several proven non-drug methodologies are available to treat trauma, including Somatic Experiencing® (SE), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing® (EMDR), and Tension & Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE) developed by David Berceli, Ph.D.
    3. Not checking magnesium levels -this should be routine in the mental health system, as well as in prisons and youth correctional facilities. Ideally they should also be done by general practitioners. [“…Magnesium is essential in regulating central nervous system excitability thus magnesium deficiency may cause aggressive behavior, depression, or suicide. Magnesium calms the brain and people do not need to become severely deficient in magnesium for the brain to become hyperactive.. a marginal magnesium intake overexcites the brain’s neurons and results in less coherence – creating cacophony rather than symphony – according to electroencephalogram (EEG) measurements.- (Transdermal Magnesium Therapy ©2007 by Mark Sircus, Ac., O.M.D pg.5) More in my new book – Liberty and Mental Health – You Can’t Have One Without the Other – to be released Nov 15th.

    • Btw, you’re 100% right on magnesium. Iron should also be screen for – I had low iron levels and that didn’t help. But when the hospital did a blood check on (they apparently are forced to do that by their regulations) me they didn’t even bother to look at or try to interpret results. Maybe because they are not real doctors…

  4. Was just thinking of that, and trying to put into words. This is what I came up with.

    Definition of stigma,
    a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.
    “the stigma of mental disorder”
    synonyms: shame, disgrace, dishonor, ignominy, opprobrium, humiliation, (bad) reputation
    “the stigma of bankruptcy”

    Note first result on Google, and mentions mental illness. The second bankruptcy, which is also, oddly enough associated with mental illness. Synonyms, that appear to also be signs of mental illness.
    “Symptoms vary widely and may affect mood, thinking, and the ability to interact with others.”
    Like the ability to empathize, sympathize, and and see beyond our own situation. That is effected by ‘mental illness’. People who are ‘mentally well’ are expected to do these things.

    So when some one is sobbing, or in apparent distress, a ‘normal person’ is expected to more often then not, show compassion, empathy, sympathy, offer support, and help in any way they can. It would be considered ‘mentally unwell’ to say that they’re getting upset over nothing, and berate, especially if you don’t know them well, or at all. It’s considered ‘mentally well’ to assume this is for a reason, and would be ‘self absorbed’ not to. It would be consider ‘socially inappropriate’, to just tell them to enjoy the beautiful weather, and walk away. It would be considered ‘anti social’ to laugh, or mock them.

    That person is now automatically suffering with a ‘mood disorder’, so a ‘mentally healthy person’ is expected to on average be compassionate. If they are not they would be considered ‘mentally unwell’. So, would our person with a ‘mood disorder’

    So what does this mean for stigma? Well, I think most people would agree we shouldn’t dismiss, or mock this person. Only if someone else is doing this, we shouldn’t condemn this either? Well, if they are ‘mentally ill’ and we shame or dishonor them, we are ‘stigmatizing’ an ‘illness’

    This mind set is filled with extremes, and hypocrisy. It offers no clarity, or solutions. in a complicated, world so full of paradoxes, imperfection. This idea of an inconsolable person, being ruthlessly tormented, and dismissed, is extreme, and as I pointed out would both be both parties would be considered ‘mentally unwell’. This is clear propaganda, that I know if people started taking an honest look around they would see.