A Brief History of Stigma

Book cover: A Brief History of Stigma by Ashley L. Peterson

A Brief History of Stigma: Looking for Ways to Move Beyond Mental Illness Stigma is the latest book from Ashley L. Peterson.

You can find it on:

A Brief History of Stigma

About A Brief History of Stigma

Stigma can have a huge impact on the lives of people living with mental illness. That needs to change, but how can we make it happen? A Brief History of Stigma explores the past and present of stigma to give a solid basis to examine strategies to reduce stigma and critically evaluate their effectiveness. It also incorporates the author’s experiences as a former mental health nurse living with a chronic mental illness.

The book is divided into three parts.

Part I: The Nature of the Beast: These chapters explore what stigma is, along with relevant sociological theory. Common stereotypes that are part of mental illness stigma are discussed, including the stereotyped link to violence.

Part II: Stigma in Context: This section covers different areas where the effects of public stigma and structural stigma can be seen. Specific contexts that are explored include employment, housing, health care, and law enforcement.

Part III: What Can We Do About It?: Parts I and II set the stage for section III, which explores stigma reduction strategies and their effectiveness. You’ll likely be surprised to learn how ineffective certain commonly used strategies are when it comes to changing public attitudes. Chapters are devoted to the role of language, strategies to address structural stigma, including stigma in health care, and ways that we can respond as individuals who experience stigma.

This book is for anyone who’s interested in understanding stigma and making the world a better place for people with mental illness. Together, we can create positive change!

Published by Mental Health @ Home Books.

For ideas for further reading, you can view the book’s selected bibliography here.

Chapter List
  1. Introduction
  1. Part I: The Nature of the Beast
    1. 1) What Is Stigma?
    2. 2) Violence Stereotypes
    3. 3) Stigma Masquerades
    4. 4) Suicide Stigma
    5. 5) Historical Maltreatment of the Mentally Ill
  1. Part II: Stigma in Context
    1. 6) Sociocultural Context
    2. 7) Structural Stigma
    3. 8) Health Care
    4. 9) Health Professionals Experiencing Mental Illness
    5. 10) Law Enforcement & the Justice System
  1. Part III: What Can We Do About It?
    1. 11) Challenges to Address Stigma
    2. 12) How Much Does Language Matter?
    3. 13) Individual Responses to Stigma
    4. 14) Addressing Structural & Health Care Stigma


Readers’ Responses to A Brief History of Stigma

A Brief History of Stigma on Goodreads: 5 stars (5 ratings, 3 reviews)
Goodreads, Dec. 8/21

Stigma is powerful, and humans have been telling stories about mental illness since life began. Stigmatized social distancing is an old concept that can cause further degradation of ones’ mental health through lack of empathetic connection. The bias for psychological safety drives decisions by many to exclude those living with a mental illness from their lives in a meaningful way even when documented evidence is available that safety is not statistically in jeopardy.

A Brief History of Stigma is filled with wisdom about “cultural truths” that we are raised with and the link to how they diminish healing outcomes. Leaving behind ideas of less than and left alone to wither in an institution, we acknowledge the past as a pathway that we can step aside of to co-create a bridge to cross together filled with the spirit of individuality. Hope for the future comes from Ashley’s pioneering work to educate us and call us to change the system, values and language with advocacy and vocalization of our stories. A Brief History of Stigma is a comprehensive, well researched and documented overview of the challenges of changing the status quo regarding mental health.

Stephanie Schlosser, Author, Braving Bipolar 

I read a lot, and I’ve actually never seen a book that goes this in depth into the nuances of mental health stigma, so I definitely really enjoyed it.

… I appreciate that the author is not afraid to call out the bullshit as it applies to claims by gun rights advocates about who should be selectively excluded from being able to have a firearm and stuff like that, because isolating a certain category of people based on mental health history is very narrow in scope and it really like the author says it really hasn’t done such a great job so far.

… I love Ashley Peterson’s writings and work related to toxic positivity.

… This is a really great book. It’s a great resource and it does a great job of breaking down the nuance of mental health stigma, so I definitely highly recommend [it].

These excerpts come from a review on the podcast Perfectly Imperfect by Johnzelle Anderson LPC of Panoramic Counseling – you can listen on AnchorFM to Part 1 and Part 2.

Ashley is such a brilliant writer! She understands mental illness firsthand and she has a wealth of experience working in the mental health field. “A Brief History of Stigma” is a unique work; there is no other book quite like it. Not only does Peterson provides a comprehensive (yet not overwhelming) analysis of stigma, she explains how our society can reduce stigma. “A Brief History of Stigma” is a profoundly helpful read for all those affected by mental illness, whether they have a mood disorder or care about someone who does.

Dyane Harwood, Author, Birth of A New Brain (posted on Goodreads)

This time around, Ashley has poured it all in this book, where did she get the word brief when writing a three parts and 14 chapters book interspersed with all those disclosing and empowering ‘getting personal’ sections? My hats off to Ashley.

… I love part three of her book above all, because I need to know what can be done and especially by persons living with a mental illness (replace the word if you don’t like it, but please don’t word police me). Ashley’s makes and shares a few tried and results proven strategies, indeed as an honorary member and mentor of the Global Mental Health Peer Network, I can only applaud the strategies on peer support, sharing our stories, protesting and co.

Marie Abanga, Author, Battered, Tattered, But Not Shattered (posted on Instagram)

Resources Based on A Brief History of Stigma

Stigma Reduction Toolkit

These modules, which are in PDF format, have information and tools to help you challenge stigma. They include the resources that are mentioned in A Brief History of Stigma.

  • Identity map exercise: Stigma reduces people to stereotypes that are all about the illness. This module has worksheets to explore who you are as a multi-faceted individual, as well as the ways that mental illness (or other major life circumstances) can affect you without changing who you are.
  • Media advocacy: The media plays a key role in perpetuating stereotypes in the public consciousness, and media advocacy is about working to change the narrative.
  • Peer support: Peer support is a valuable tool to challenge self-stigma and work collectively to challenge public stigma.
  • Political advocacy: Governments make decisions about mental health services and their funding, and they also play a role in other aspects of structural stigma, so they’re an important target for advocacy efforts.
  • Post-secondary student mental health advocacy: Coming prepared with resources and knowledge about your rights can be helpful in navigating stigma on campus.
  • Raise your voice: This module provides resources with tips on sharing your story and ideas for places to share it through writing or speaking.
  • Stigma fact sheet: This fact sheet gives an overview of the social phenomenon that is stigma.
  • Stigma reduction strategies: This fact sheet provides a quick look at some of the pros and cons of common strategies that are used in anti-stigma campaigns.
  • Workplace mental health: There are a lot of good reasons for employers to make workplace mental health a higher priority. This module has resources you can share with your employer, as well as information on your rights regarding things like accommodations.

The following blog posts on Mental Health @ Home are based on topics covered in the book.

About Ashley L. Peterson

Ashley L. Peterson, author and creator of Mental Health @ Home

I began my career in health care as a pharmacist in 2002, but I quickly returned to school to get a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. During my 15-year nursing career, I specialized in the field of mental health, working primarily with people with serious and persistent mental illness in both hospital and community settings.

Two years into my nursing career, I was hospitalized and diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Since then, I’ve been passionate about sharing my own experiences to challenge stigma and generate open conversations about mental health and illness.

For my Master of Psychiatric Nursing thesis work, I used a research method called autoethnography to situate my own experiences with mental illness within the context of nursing culture, addressing issues like stigma. I published several papers in peer-reviewed nursing journals based on this work.

Since illness-related disability has brought my nursing career to a close, I’ve shifted my focus to writing and advocacy efforts online.

Stop the stigma: Resources to challenge mental illness stigma

You can find out more on the Stop the Stigma page, which provides an overview of the stigma-related topics covered on the Mental Health @ Home Blog.

Mental Health @ Home Books by Ashley L. Peterson - book covers
Mental Health @ Home Books by Ashley L. Peterson – You can find them on my Amazon author page.