A Brief History of Stigma is the fourth book by Ashley L. Peterson from Mental Health @ Home Books. It will be released later in 2021.
It explores the past and present of stigma, including the theory around it and the contexts in which it occurs, to give a solid basis to examine strategies to reduce stigma and critically evaluate their effectiveness.
A Brief History of Stigma: Outline
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 both 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
What Stigma Is
There’s nothing about stigma that’s inherent in mental illness. It’s a social phenomenon that stems from which groups society has labelled as socially acceptable and which groups/identities have been deemed deviant. It’s learned through the process of socialization, which begins early in life.
Strategies to Stop the Stigma
Three broad approaches are often used as part of stigma reduction campaigns. These are explored further in the post on fighting stigma most effectively, which is based on Patrick Corrigan’s excellent book The Stigma Effect.
Protest strategies point out stereotypes and discrimination and call on people to address the injustices identified. However, they may end up triggering reactance, a form of psychological resistance that arises from a sense that one’s freedom is threatened. This actually tends to promote the opposite of the intended effect, with people doing the opposite of what’s being asked in order to exert their freedom.
Education about mental illness can provide corrective information to counteract stereotypes. These types of strategies can be done on a large scale and are relatively low-cost to implement. However, this approach assumes that lack of information is the cause of stigma, which isn’t necessarily the case.
Contact with people who have a mental illness is the most effective way to decrease stigma. Specifically, it’s most effective when that contact involves:
- equal social status
- one-on-one contact
- engaging together in a rewarding activity
- interactions that moderately disconfirm stereotypes (but the person is still “convincing” as someone who has a mental illness)
These are just a few of the organizations working to promote dialogue around mental health and stigma on a broader scale. On their sites, you can get involved with their campaigns and read the stories of others living with mental illness.
- Bring Change to Mind
- Join the Conversation
- Like Minds, Like Mine (New Zealand)
- NAMI StigmaFree initiative
- SANE Australia Stigma Watch: monitors and responds to inappropriate media reporting
- See Me (Scotland)
- Stigma Fighters
- Stigma Free Society toolkits for rural, student, and COVID/youth
Legislative & Policy Advocacy
Whether you like politics or not, what governments do can have a big impact on the lives of people with mental illness. That means we need to make sure that they hear our voices. Getting in touch with your local elected officials is one way of getting active; you can also jump on board with the efforts of mental health organizations lobbying for positive changes.
You may be interested in getting involved with these organizations’ advocacy efforts:
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP): Field advocates | Public Policy Action Center
- Canadian Mental Health Association
- JED Foundation Advocacy
- Mental Health America: Advocacy Network | Current Mental Health Legislation
- Mind: Be a Mind Campaigner
- NAMI Advocacy
These sites have resources for people conducting advocacy campaigns:
- Berkeley Media Studies Group: Getting Started with Media Advocacy
- CMHA Alberta: Making Mental Health Matter Advocacy Toolkit
- NAMI Smarts for Advocacy training
- Orygen Global Youth Mental Health Advocacy Toolkit
- Schizophrenia Society of Canada Advocacy Tool Kit
- STRIPED @ Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Power Prism Advocacy Framework
- University of Kansas Community Toolbox: Principles of Advocacy | Conducting a Direct Action Campaign
The Advocacy 101 video below is from the AFSP.
Raise Your Voice
In order to stop the stigma around mental illness, we need to speak up and show that we are not the stereotypes that people try to force onto us. Coming out as having a mental illness, and sharing both the challenges and obstacles overcome, is a powerful way of demonstrating to the world what mental illness actually looks like without the stereotypes. You don’t have to be an influencer to do this; you just need to be a regular person who’s willing to share your truth.
Tips & Tools:
- Be Vocal: tips for speaking up in different contexts
- Centre for Innovation in Peer Support toolkit for sharing your story effectively
- Mental Health Commission of Canada Headstrong: Sharing Your Personal Story Speaker Toolkit
- NAMI Connect: Best Practices for Presentations by Suicide Loss and Suicide Attempt Survivors
Speaking with the media is another option for getting the word out. The University of Kansas Community Toolbox has tips on media advocacy.
In the UK, the charity Mind has media volunteer opportunities.
The US site HARO (Help A Reporter Out) connects journalists with sources. You can sign up for their email list and keep an eye out for journalists looking to speak to people about mental health issues.
Public speaking isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it can be a powerful way of sharing your story. Check with your local mental health charities to find out about speaking opportunities in your area. These national charities offer speaking opportunities:
- Beyond Blue (Australia) has a speaker series, although they’re not always recruiting
- Jack.org (Canada) has speaking opportunities for young adults 18-26
- NAMI (US) has a few different speaker series; check with your local NAMI organization
- In Our Own Voice training
- Sharing Your Story with Law Enforcement training – NAMI is involved in police Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training
The post Ways to share your story contains links to mental health sites where you can submit stories.
About Ashley L. Peterson
I began my career in health care as a pharmacist in 2002, and quickly returned to school to become a nurse two years later. I specialized in the field of mental health for my entire 15-year career, working with people with serious mental illness in both hospital and community settings.
Two years into my nursing career, I was hospitalized with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder. Since then, I’ve been passionate about challenging the stigma around mental illness. I completed a Master of Psychiatric Nursing degree in 2015, despite two hospitalizations while in grad school. My thesis work and several related academic journal publications focused on my experience of mental illness within the context of nursing culture. I’m no longer working due to my illness, but I continue my education and advocacy efforts online.
Watch for A Brief History of Stigma to be released later this year!
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.