The Structure and Function of Stigma

Because talking about things that matter is likely to draw mental health stigma, here’s a handy guide to how it works and how you can beat it:

Stigma is very real. It is a framework of ideas that result in self-perpetuating distortions of perspective/meaning that create a subjective reality not necessarily representative of the truth of the matter.

There is an element of mental health stigma that denotes power to the “non-mentally ill” person in a near totalitarian fashion that is closely related to fascism. The “non-mentally…” person assumes the right to define the other person (on near all levels, cognitive, emotional, rational, and by extension of associated impressions even genetic, physical and aesthetic.)

(Note that “unusual manner of dress” – or something to that effect – is, amazingly, somehow a “scientific” indicator of schizophrenia, but which could just as easily be attributed to a fine articulate sense of color, texture, layer, and weight of clothing…or one just wears whatever they want, ’cause – who cares – they’re “schizophrenic.”)

On that note, back to stigma. Yes, it’s very real. It is a powerful mechanism in our experience of reality in relation to people, expressions, even what it means to be ourselves when we live in a world in which almost anybody could be “crazy” and how terrifying that would be, to be “one of those people” or “how sad…”

Stigma grants people the right to determine who we are and what we mean and what our personhood is worth, socially, economically, and even in the most basic human ways…such as being made a conceptual object, to be pitied or scorned or ridiculed.

Thus, it is – in fact – an issue with society and our society was built on intolerance for difference, particularly difference that challenges the attributes deemed desirable in a military industrialist corporatocracy.

Stigma is a meme perpetuated by systems that profit and gain power by oppressing the full range of humanity, because if the full range of humanity were experienced and expressed, they would not be able to continue to do business in the ways that they do. It is a mechanism of social engineering designed to discredit and disable vast swathes of the human condition.

This is not ill-informed radical ranting. It is simple sociological observation from a conflict and symbolic interactionist perspective, mixed with some of Cooley’s Looking Glass Self. We see ourselves as we perceive others to see us. If people are mean, if they don’t listen, if they exclude, if they abuse, if they ignore, if they lock us away…well, we begin to get the idea that perhaps we are everything they inform us that we are. Therein lies the real power of stigma. It changes how we see ourselves, often in a way that reinforces further stigma. Insult to injury.

So, yes, stigma. Very real. Very bad.

It is easy to beat, however. All you have to do is STOP BELIEVING IN IT and establish a recovery paradigm within your relations and expectations of treatment that “flips script” and causes the perpetrator of stigma to appear foolish and embarassing of him or herself in making such assumptions. 

Often, this doesn’t even require direct verbal confrontation. 
Usually it can be achieved by simply looking the person directly in the eye in such a way that informs them that you understand that they think you’re crazy and that you find it amusing, actually, because it shows how little they really know. Also, what a loss for them…to not get know how fabulousinterestingkindbravesmart you really are. Walk away in quiet triumph for not buying into someone else’s lousy ideas.

One may be inclined to make self-value-affirming assumptions about the other person…though really none of us have the right to judge…

“Oh, they must not have a very interesting life, they really must have low self esteem, they probably hate their job, what are they going to do when their kid gets diagnosed?” …pause…walk back.

“I’m sorry to bother you, may I please tell you something? The way that you were communicating with me (when you said/did…) a minute ago? Well, it seemed like you were judging me because of my 

(appt. reason, dx, tardive dyskinesia, mental health history, prescription, show of emotion, 

way of speaking, scars…)

“I don’t know if you intended to make me feel bad, but I do feel a little badly about the way it seemed I was being treated. Please try to be more conscientious/sensitive. In a lot of ways, I’m no different than you are. Thanks for your time. Have a good day.”

The first few times “speaking truth to power” made my face burn and I got very shaky. A few deep breaths later, I felt great. If people treat you badly after confrontation, you have legitimate cause to raise a big stink…in the form of a report to 1) a supervisor 2) a school board 3) a civil lawyer and/or anyone else you might want to tell about the perpetrator of the stigma.

Sometimes, people deeply entrenched in stigma will use your effort to assert you right not to be judged as – in their mind – further proof of your “craziness.” Stigma can work like that, create offensive backlash. Emotional boundaries can be helpful in difficult and particularly abusive cases in stigma. I have also used a line of thinking that goes something like this:


“Okay, calm down. Their opinion of me means nothing. They are acting cruel and narrow-minded. I am so glad that I’m not like them. How sad that they’ll miss out on seeing so many people clearly. It will all come back around. I refuse to let someone who is being a foolish jerk mess up my day.” 
Do not give anyone the power to define who you are and what your life might hold.

See yourself.

SPEAKING OF POWER  
notes on the persistent awareness that the world needs saving…

We have everything we need to make a better world. Everything. We have the people, we have the resources, we have the solutions.

We have everything.



Except we do not have compliance with the plan for a better world. Many people, at least 5.5 Billion, want a better world. Many of them pray every single day for a better world. However, there are some people, probably fewer than ten thousand, that do not want us to have a better world.

These people want to continue doing what they have been doing. They want to keep making money, they want to keep exerting their will on people and places so they can keep the power they’ve taken.

Earned? Did they earn their power? Some could say yes. However, in many cases it also was given. In fact, by and large, we gave it to them. In some cases, we paid them to assume power over us. When was the last time we went to the movies? When was the last time I paid my taxes? When was the last time you got drunk?

“Have you been taking your prescriptions?”

In many cases, the power to wrought will upon the world was/is, simply and brutally, taken. If power was/is not conceded, then people die.

How do we stop them? People have protested for thousands of years. It does not seem to have done as much good as it should’ve, had they listened.

They don’t listen.                        Do they not see? 

More importantly, do we not see?


Apparently, some very intelligent people have begun to reckon that the world will end. Not because of some trick of the stars spinning, but because we’re destroying it. That’s sad. More sad, nobody seems too terribly concerned.

What could 5.5 Billion people do to save the world? 
                                                                                                        Stop. Turn. Speak. 

Then what? 

Is there really anything to say?

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