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Stigma.

By Sophie Jones


There has been much discussion on the subject of the stigma of a mental illness. It is true that it exists and has a detrimental effect on the service user socially, their employability and their access to housing and general health care needs. In other words it affects every aspect of life for a service user.

It is very admirable to try to tackle this with the ultimate goal of eradicating it. It strikes me as a tall order, not that I believe it is not possible to change the system or eradicate injustices in the long term but stigma cannot be seen in isolation of the general socio-economic system we live in. We live in a world where there is constant competition for jobs, for housing, for qualifications, for just about anything. Competition underpins the whole ethos of the western world and today has permeated almost all quarters of the world. Some people may argue that it is natural and not a bad thing, that there are winners and losers and that is the way things work. I would argue that it doesn't work, why should people starve when there are food mountains elsewhere? Why should a factory making helicopters close when a severe flooding has just occurred in Mozambique and helicopters are desperately needed?

The point I am trying to make is that the market which governs our lives economically is anarchic and beyond rational understanding. So as long as the system we live under has as its main premise competition and market economics, stigma will survive. It serves a purpose to keep people in fear of one another, keep peoples heads down, and to not question.

Alienation is also big in the west. People are much more lonely and isolated in cities and industrialised places than anywhere else. We are expected to behave like robots and not have an emotional life. Stigma is rife in such places.

Stigma is part of the system we live under, a mechanism used to dehumanise us, keep us in our place. Stigma means that people who show emotional problems can never be understood, are not equal to others, and should be avoided.

As I mentioned before I don't think it is impossible to change the situation. It is the case that the subjects of stigma have friends and family, people who know, love and understand them. People who are interested in that persons life and history, the ability to understand the “why” and the causes of a nervous breakdown. Stigma exists, but is not a totality. It exists alongside love and understanding. This is what can give hope for the future.

A practical way to counteract stigma is to give a platform to service users to speak about their experiences and their lives. A way should be found of enabling service users to be heard, so that the fear and mistrust can be replaced by understanding real lives. Service users can teach people about life, they have been places in their mind that few have gone. They have survived and learned much more about themselves and what it means to be human, they have a lot to give and the world has a lot to learn from them.