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Aspects of Stigma

Stigma and discrimination towards people with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, and even towards their families, is a huge problem. But until we can define what we are dealing with when we talk of stigma and discrimination we may not be able to do anything very much. Below are some ideas put together as a result of the stigma discussion at the Jerusalem conference and other discussions about stigma we have had. If you have something to add that may help people in their creation of anti-stigma and anti-discrimination programs please email or write us.

STEREOTYPING

  1. Grouping or categorizing persons under one heading and attributing characteristics to all the individuals under that heading
  2. Making generalizations about groups of people
  3. Making judgments based on how people look
  4. Being unable to see people as individuals with individual characteristics
  5. Using stereotypes on which to base film or TV suspense movie plots

REINFORCING THE STEREOTYPE

  1. Untreated people who are visible on our streets present an image that people respond to with fear and avoidance
  2. In some societies eccentricity is well accepted, in others people must conform for acceptance.

HISTORICAL ASSOCIATIONS

  1. The idea that psychiatric disorders have to do with the supernatural
  2. An almost innate feeling of fear among many members of society
  3. A fear of associating with anyone who has a mind disorder
  4. Society's recollection of the "madhouse" as demonstrated in films like "The Snake Pit" back in the 40s.
  5. A human being's distrust of the unpredictable

IGNORANCE

  1. The lack of knowledge and the public unawareness of how these disorders affect people
  2. Attributing logical and reasoned thought to the actions of people in psychosis
  3. A susceptibility to make fun of mental illness
  4. Government and societal discrimination against people with these disorders in matters of employment, travel (visas), etc..
  5. The mental health workforce is largely untrained and ignorant of current knowledge in the field

ABUSE

  1. Persons recovering from or unstable with illnesses of the mind are very vulnerable to unscrupulous individuals who would dupe or otherwise abuse them.
  2. Persons angered by the behaviour of people with illness may physically abuse them.
  3. Vulnerability to coercion by religious cults, drug users and dealers and others

LANGUAGE

  1. Using words that have unpleasant connotations
  2. Using words which are downright offensive e.g. schizo; psycho. (Extraordinarily enough a group of consumers have adopted for themselves the term "the crazies")
  3. Describing disorders using vivid adjectives e.g. "horrific; incurable"
  4. Finding suitable terms to describe experiences
  5. Using judgmental language
  6. The pejorative connotation of words that were originally ways to describe people's conditions e.g. mental illness
  7. Discounting anything someone with experience of schizophrenia says as delusional thinking or not to be considered.

THE BENEFITS OF LANGUAGE

  1. Finding more suitable expressions which put the hope back e.g. "treatable"
  2. Being able to ask those who have experience of mind disorders whether they can suggest better ways of using language
  3. Thinking before you speak. Putting yourself in the other persons position.
  4. Listening to and conversing with persons with experience of schizophrenia

VALUING PEOPLE WITH DISORDERS

  1. People should not be characterized by the disorders they suffer. There is more to a person than this.
  2. Searching out people's abilities is of more value than reinforcing notions about their disabilities

CHANGING THE EXPECTATIONS

  1. Better medications and better management indicate that today recovery is a very real hope.
  2. Better income provision for those with such disabilities may make them less vulnerable to discrimination.
  3. There are many websites that deal with stigma. SANE Australia has a fully developed program.