The word “stigma” has been used in the mental health world to acknowledge the prejudice that surrounds mental illness; however, many individuals and professionals find the word offensive or unprofessional. As a social worker with a history of Major Depressive Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Bulimia, Complex PTSD, and substance abuse, I choose to use the word “stigma” when addressing mental illness because it is applicable to my personal experience and experience in the professional field. Using and addressing the word highlights the negativity that continues to surround mental health and allows it to be addressed and fought. However, it can be a sensitive topic with individuals and professionals alike, and it needs to be used with caution.
Stigma is defined as “a mark of disgrace that sets a person apart from others” (Government of Western Australia, 2019). It is also connected to prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination. Since stigma creates a sense of shame, it negatively impacts the self-image of individuals with mental illness. Mental health and mental illness have long been connected to stigma due to a lack of education and experience that leads to negative interactions and a lack of help or services. Despite the great strides that have been made in mental health, it is still lacking. Education and empathy are essential when fighting the stigma surrounding mental illness, and disconnecting mental illness from an individual’s personality is important. Mental illness is not the fault of the individual, and it does not define one’s personality. Mental health and mental illness continue to develop as research expands diagnosis and treatment options, but with this development, continuing to learn and grow is necessary.
While stigma is seen as a negative word or topic, it is necessary to address when identifying the experiences of those who have experienced mental illness. For so long, mental illness has been tied to one’s personality or shortcomings. By identifying that negative experience through the use of “stigma” we can better educate those who don’t have firsthand experience with mental illness to gain allies and fight the injustices that surround mental health.
Government of Western Australia. (2019). Stigma, Discrimination and Mental Illness. Government of Western Australia Department of Health.