Reprinted from "Stigma & Discrimination" issue of Visions Journal, 2005, 2 (6), p. 3
It’s been over 40 years since Erving Goffman wrote the pre-eminent resource, Stigma and the Management of Spoiled Identity. And while some inroads have been made for some diagnoses, it seems that others have ﬁlled the void. A mother of a son with schizophrenia once told me that borderline personality disorder is “the new schizophrenia.” This she saw as a result of better understanding of schizophrenia. This is not, however, to say that people with schizophrenia do not still experience stigma.
In a recent conversation with a colleague, the issue of stigma versus discrimination came up. It is interesting to note that talk of stigma seems restricted now to issues of mental illness and addictions. In other social and health movements, discrimination is the word that is used. The difference here is that protection against discrimination is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Stigma is not.
The articles in this edition of Visions talk of the many forms stigma take— societal, interpersonal, internal. And in some sense, this is preaching to the choir. As readers of this issue, we are already likely aware of the negative, often destructive impact of stigma on the lives of persons with mental illness and/or addictions. What we need to do is to share this issue with our communities, both familial and extended. As one article acknowledges, it is direct contact with a person with any of these diagnoses that makes the biggest difference.
There is a very interesting structural issue that I want to acknowledge. In putting together this issue, we had an abundance of personal and familial stories, stories from service providers and ‘professionals’ about what stigma looks like. Where there is a lack, and this may be our problem in defeating stigma, is in programs and services created speciﬁcally to address stigma.
Stigma will only cease to exist when people are valued for who they are, when they have educated and understanding social relations, and when we all begin to understand that self-stigma allows other-stigma to run rampant. If we think, “I’m glad that I have this diagnosis and not that one,” then we are just reproducing the same problem. To battle this, we need to look deep inside and challenge our beliefs about what mental health, mental illness and addiction are. Let’s hope we don’t have to do another issue in 40 years to talk about the impact of stigma.
About the Author
Christina is Executive Director of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mid-Island Branch. She has an MEd in Community Rehabilitation and Disability Studies and is working towards her doctorate in Policy and Practice in the Faculty of Human and Social Development at the University of Victoria