What is stigma?
Stigma is defined in the Cambridge Dictionary as “a strong feeling of disapproval that most people in a society have about something, especially when this is unfair.”
Stigma can come in many forms and as it is mainly disapproval or negative attitude from judgemental people, it is commonly known as “social stigma”.
There are many types of social stigma, such as coming from an underprivileged family, a substance or alcohol problem, medical problems, etc., a few examples of which are provided here.
Suggestions will also be given on how social stigma can be dealt with in a positive manner by both the sufferer and those who taunt them.
The World Health Organisation defines mental stigma as “The single most important barrier to overcome in the community is the stigma and associated discrimination towards persons suffering from mental and behavioural disorders.”
A person suffers from social stigma when he or she carries a mark of disgrace that makes them look different from other people.
Examples of social stigma
Our first example of social stigma is Linda who suffers from vitiligo, where there is discoloration on patches of her skin. She faces social stigmatization from colleagues who stereotype (or generalize) her skin disorder as severe and contagious. They start disassociating with her, in case they get infected, even though vitiligo is not contagious.
Linda will suffer emotionally with feelings of shame, loneliness, guilt, isolation and be cut off socially all due to her non-contagious skin disorder.
Our second example is Paul, a student who suffers from hypothyroidism which makes him obese. Other students who are unaware of his medical condition, tease him for being oversized, making Paul suffer the social stigma of obesity.
The students are ignorant of Paul’s medical condition and simply decide to stereotype him as being fat and clumsy. Paul sufferings are similar to Linda’s. He finds it extremely difficult to mix with other students and make friends, as few want to understand his condition and accept him as he is.
How to cope with social stigma?
People who stigmatize and discriminate against others are often unaware of the true circumstances related to the situation.
Here are some ways how a discriminated person can deal with social stigma:
Don’t allow social stigma let you doubt yourself
Social stigma is not a sign of self-weakness and just doesn’t come from others. Reach out to counsellors who can educate you on your condition and how to deal with yourself as well as others who don’t understand your condition.
Try not to isolate yourself
Once you have regained your confidence with the help of counsellors, try to venture out more. If you are scared, bring along a family member for moral support. Believe it or not, there are people in the world who do not discriminate and will be happy to be friends with you.
Look for a local community support group
If there is a group in your location, make an effort to join in. You may feel overwhelmed during the initial sessions, but keep going! You will find you are not alone and that there are others in a similar condition. Share experiences and tips with each other on how to overcome the social stigma you are facing.
Talk openly about your issue or problem
In Linda’s case, she can try explaining about vitiligo to her colleagues, and highlight that it is not contagious. Similarly though slightly more challenging, Paul can try to make his schoolmates aware of his condition.
People may see Linda and Paul in a different light, once they know of their conditions and find that both Linda and Paul shouldn’t be blamed for their conditions.
How you can help lessen social stigma
And here are some ways people in general can help deal with social stigma:
A good way to create social awareness on social stigmas is through education and public campaigns. This way people become aware of the hurt they give those with issues, and can make a positive change to provide support instead.
Respect those who suffer from social stigma
Give support to social stigma victims to have confidence in themselves.
Refrain from name-calling or making hurtful remarks about a social stigma victim.
In conclusion: Social stigma is mainly from people who are ignorant of a person’s situation, and those who simply pass judgement. Let us all not fall into this category, and instead show our full support and care to those suffering from any form of social stigma. For those who suffer from any form of social stigma, do reach out for help and remember– it is NOT your fault.
3rd October 2020 22:30
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