Can We Relate to Overcome Stigma?
By: Loretta Jay, executive director, B Stigma-Free*
Dangerous and unpredictable, incompetent and blameworthy. These negative stereotypes about people who struggle with their mental health have repeatedly been proven false. Still, the stigma persists, and it interferes with access to care and full integration into one’s community. We need to change perceptions, and consequently, change lives.
In fact, that is the underlying principle behind a new national non-profit working to end stigma related to mental illness and other identities: B Stigma-Free. The organization is helping us all recognize our similarities to one another, and focusing our attention on shared experiences of bias and discrimination. By reaching outside of our comfort zone, we can conquer our fears and embrace our differences and create a culture of understanding and inclusiveness.
You’ve probably heard a lot of fear-mongering in the news media lately. Certain elected officials have spoken out about particular issues to arouse public fear and alarm. They are attacking certain groups and generalizing one person’s actions to reflect a community, whether it is because of their skin color, ethnic or religious background, or sexual orientation. If the tables are turned, and a different identity – one that we identify with – is targeted, does that change our perception?
Consider these scenarios for someone with a mental health challenge or their loved ones. It would be unconstitutional to close down a place where people who have a mental illness congregate, such as clinicians’ offices or community clubhouses. Outlandish, right? Reprehensible. Scary. But these thoughts aren’t as far-fetched as we turn on the news and hear the scapegoating.
It’s a bold game plan: can we reduce the stigma related to mental illness by speaking up when we see incidents of fat-shaming or homophobia? Racism or heightism? It needs to be a two-way street. We cannot only care about ourselves, or our own identity. We need to speak up and join others when we see injustice occurring. B Stigma-Free is partnering with Each Mind Matters and other influential organizations and focusing on the intersectionality of different identities. Through storytelling our message becomes clearer and amplified; we connect more, and relate better with each other.
It won’t be easy – though living with stigma is no cakewalk either. Together we are stronger, and together we can do better. It will take courage, and it will take YOU. Be brave, share your story, and remember that we need each other to make change happen.
Loretta Jay, MA, is the Executive Director of B Stigma-Free. With more than twenty-five years experience consulting and working for non-profits and government organizations, she has published, spoken and testified extensively on complex issues regarding stigma, mental health and specialized healthcare populations.
B Stigma-Free helps create a kinder society so people with differences are accepted, respected and included for who they are. Using Cross-Identity Collaboration™, partnerships with stakeholders educate and engage the community and start national conversations to reduce bias and prejudice.
*Guest blog: Each Mind Matters provides a platform for open dialogue and varying perspectives about mental health. The opinions of the author of guest blogs don’t necessarily reflect those of Each Mind Matters. If you have questions or comments about a blog written by a guest writer we encourage you to continue the discussion with the author by contacting the organization listed in the bio.