by Kate Fitch
On Twitter today @MHChat is talking about stigma. @ConnConnection pointed out that stigma and discrimination are the same thing, and that we should call it such. I agree, and here’s why.
Stigma: a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.
Discrimination: the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things.
While stigma is defined as primarily an attitude, and discrimination is defined as a particular action, they are based in the same concept – bias, preference, intolerance. The stigma surrounding mental illness is that having it makes you “less than” others. Less capable of being a good person, less capable of holding down a job, less important than people with “real” illnesses, less deserving of help, less deserving of respect, and frankly, less of a human being. Holding these attitudes about people with mental illness is an act of discrimination. It is judging them unfairly, making assumptions about their capabilities, and regarding them with less respect simply because of their mental health status.
I think that calling out stigma as discrimination is a good step toward eliminating it. We rarely talk about the “stigma” of being a certain race, gender, or sexual orientation. We call it prejudice, discrimination, racism, sexism, and homophobia. Even if someone is not taking specific actions to treat people of a certain race, gender, or sexual orientation differently, but express prejudicial attitudes toward them, we call that discrimination. The stigma surrounding mental illness should be treated the same way. Even if you aren’t overtly treating us any differently, holding attitudes that we are less capable, less important, and less worthy of respect is discrimination. Plain and simple.