American Academy Blog

Reducing the Impact of Stigma

January 2, 2014 at 10:57 am Comments are off for this post

I would love social work to tackle the Stigma. It is a major problem that impacts on how resources (social, economic, health, housing, etc.) are distributed in our society. There are many levels where stigma impacts our society, which includes micro level (self-stigma), to meso (family, community, institutions, service providers) to macro level (structural, cultural). There are many structural factors with stigma (similar to institutionalized racism that is impacted by unequal power as seen in policies, practices, laws, etc.) and operates at a very subtle level. One approach would be to try to change society’s views of marginalized groups. Another would be developing interventions with people within these groups to minimize the impact of these negatives societal stereotypes/views, so that these views will not be internalized. Internalized or self-stigma h as been associated with a reduction in help-seeking and a deleterious impact on an individual’s sense of self and their identity, which results in a diminished quality of life and lack of hope in his/her future. Unfortunately, there are many groups that have a history of being marginalized and stigmatized (e.g., the poor, LGBTQ, people with mental illness, people with HIV/AIDS, people with other chronic illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, autism, etc.). These stereotypes and views of people who are marginalized are often learned fairly early in people’s lives and are often transmitted in subtle to very explicit ways. Working with children and communities would be a great place to start. In comparison to 20 years ago, people are slightly more accepting of mental illness, for example, because of increased exposure to information on the issues and having more contact with someone who has it–friends, family members, neighbors, celebrities, etc. However, these stereotypes persist. For example, these negative views arise every time there is a major shooting. Recent events across the US and in MD that have involved individuals who shot several people found that the immediate response by the media and public was to frame the individual’s as the result of their being “crazy” or mentally ill. This has a negative impact on other individuals with mental illness are immediately treated with suspicion, even by close friends and family.

Developing stigma interventions should involve inter-disciplinary efforts with such disciplines as social work, psychology, anthropology, medicine, nursing, public health, law, public policy/administration, criminal justice, economics, business, etc. Interventions would need to target all levels—micro, meso and macro. I think social workers could lead the way in identifying and addressing these structural factors, advocating for these dis-empowered groups, working directly with communities and institutions to reduce this discrimination and prejudice, and partnering with people from these stigmatized groups to empower them to help them resist or reduce the impact of self-stigma.