Stigma does not have to touch you specifically for it’s existence to have an effect on your life. You don’t need to hear something specific about yourself to know what is being said. You can stay home and watch TV or a movie and know you are misunderstood. You can see something in a newspaper or magazine that easily reminds you of the attitudes that permeate society. If stigma invades my home it must invade yours. It affects us both. It diminishes me as an individual and creates an attitudinal barrier between us.
It is often hard to see individual attitudes but when they are shared they become more evident. The word crazy does not define me but when you use it, it strips me of everything I am. You might not fully understand cancer but it has no other names. Why do we use so many words when it comes to mental illness? Mental illness has many aspects but we seem only capable of using words like lunatic. What are we trying to convey when we describe someone as being a few bricks short of a load? Most of these words and phrases don’t describe anything. They are simply a way to devalue and cast aside someone who differs from us on some level. As long as I am crazy to you I can be little else. I will never be your equal when the attitude you carry is one of derision or disrespect. If I have a physical illness you would not think to demean me or my illness.
A person doesn’t walk out the front door naked because we have a fair idea what others will think and say. We hide our mental health problems and isolate ourselves for the same reason. Stigma prevents us from occupying a place in your world. The only place you allow me to occupy is beneath you.
When my illness is something to be made fun of or used to put me or others down what am I to think? I did not ask for my illness anymore than you asked for your height. Maybe if you see me as I am, without your misconceptions, we can both stand taller. Stigma diminishes us all.