Combating Misnamed Stigma in All the Wrong Ways

Joseph Merlin Bowers

The word stigma literally means “mark of shame.” There is and should be no shame in having a serious mental illness. When people talk of stigma they are using a sanitized word for discrimination and prejudice.

When looking for ways to combat something, it would seem logical to look for root causes of that one wishes to combat. The major root cause of prejudice toward and discrimination of people with serious mental illnesses is bizarre, unsettling sometimes dangerous behavior caused by untreated symptoms of the illnesses. Wouldn’t it seem logical to combat the problems by getting people into prompt, effective treatment? Combat “stigma” with things like more psychiatric beds, housing assistance, job training and scholarships for people wishing to become psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers-things that might actually help people with serious mental illnesses.

Instead of investments in these kinds of things what we see over and over is money spent on largely ineffective PR “anti stigma” campaigns. By diverting funds from potentially useful purposes, well intentioned people contribute to the problem by making timely, effective treatment more difficult to come by.

Rarely is public money invested in beds, housing, job training and scholarships. Conversely, there always seems to be money available to “fight stigma” in very ineffective ways. Why is that?

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