Wikipedia describes it as: “the extreme disapproval of (or discontent with) a person or group on socially characteristic grounds that are perceived, and serve to distinguish them, from other members of a society. Stigma may then be affixed to such a person, by the greater society, who differs from their cultural norms.” To put it into simpler terms, it is when people or society disapproves of you or your behaviour on the grounds that it is different from the norm.
Stigma can be found anywhere – in the office, at home, with friends, in public places. When it comes to mental health, it seems that there is a lack of knowledge when it comes to this area. Time to Change is a charity trying to combat this stigma, and their website mentions that “the research also showed that the way family, friends, neighbors and colleagues behave can have a big impact on the lives of people with mental health problems.” In some cases, it causes negative reprisals from friends, family and people you may work with, not to mention the public. People may find it difficult to speak to you; they might leave you alone or leave you out to one side, speak down to you as if you were a child, or just leave you when it comes to making decisions.
This is all very well and good to mention, but there is also another important form of stigma called ‘self stigma’. Personally, I think this causes more damage to a person with mental health problem, on top of their existing problems. A Stigma Shout survey that was carried out showed that almost nine out of ten people with mental health problems (87%) reported the negative impact of stigma and discrimination on their lives (source: Time to Change).
At the end of February 2013, the Mental Health Discrimination Act became law. The Act repeals or amends three laws that have previously prevented people with experience of mental health problems from taking, or continuing to hold, public office. This makes it easier people with mental health problems to bring in some positive changes within the government.
Challenging stigma can have a positive effect, as it means the person who you are explaining what you are really like to, beyond the label that they may have given you, will become more informed and hopefully treat you and others better in the future.