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What is Stigma?

night-train-scary-trawelAnyone who knows someone with a mental illness has probably heard the word stigma at some point in talking to them.

They’ve probably been made aware that the media perpetrates an idea that people with major mental illnesses are unhinged and hopefully they’ve seen, through their friend or loved one that that that notion couldn’t be farther from the truth in the grand scheme of things.

It may seem like people with mental illness are obsessed with the word stigma but that’s only because it’s the only word we know that can encompass the discrimination we feel after disclosing the information about our diagnosis.

Stigma, as defined by Google is a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person. That’s telling isn’t it.

The word disgrace is so powerful and yet it encompasses the treatment we get from the layperson when discussing our schizophrenia.

We all know the look, it’s a strange squint of the eyes and downturned mouth that signals a kind of disgust and fear that people feel when they are made aware of our diagnosis.

That simple diagnosis also plants a seed of danger and wariness in any mention of you from that point forward.

It’s seen as a mark of defect or a red flag almost immediately and I won’t get into dating but the point of the word that discloses your condition can make it hard for anyone to trust you let alone form a relationship with you.

People are afraid of the word crazy, plain and simple and given the choice most people would probably want to stay away from anyone associated with that characteristic.

The thing is, we live with that notion, when we’re first diagnosed the simple idea that we’re crazy is like a knife through the heart.

It’s a sign of shame and we have no choice but to embody it. It’s as much a part of us as our blue eyes or our brown hair.

Many many people out there with mental illness hold that card close to their chest out of fear of judgment based on the word alone. Y

ou can know a person for years without knowing that they struggle with mental illness because they’re afraid of telling anybody.

It’s also seen as a sign of weak character when that notion couldn’t be farther from the truth.

We struggle everyday with the symptoms and the thoughts in our head and piling society’s definition of crazy onto that is not something that we as a society need to do.

The media has been instrumental in this narrative by labeling people who are unstable as mentally ill and while that may be true, those are extreme, untreated, and fringe cases.

So what can we do?

We can talk about it, we can show people that we struggle and that we are human and thought we have a vast range of emotions and thoughts and are just as deep as anyone else out there. We can be brave in talking about our struggles and facing the crazy label head-on. We can show people that we are worth compassion.

It’s tough to be honest, I know that, and there will still inevitably people who run in fear but if we talk about the things that we deal with we can show people that we are people too and that we’re worthy of love, compassion and acceptance.

That all said, I apologize the diatribe but we’re people dammit and we just want peace.

What is Stigma?

Michael Hedrick

Michael Hedrick is a writer and photographer who has lived with schizophrenia since he was 20. His work has been featured in Salon, The Week, Scientific American and The New York Times. You can purchase his book 'Connections' here or Follow his blog on Living with Schizophrenia here.

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APA Reference
Hedrick, M. (2016). What is Stigma?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 24, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Feb 2016
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