When you see the words forensic, criminal or bipolar near my name or face what does it make you think? Would you welcome me into your home? Would you let me watch your children? Would you stop and talk to me on the street?
Unfortunately we carry attitudes and assumptions based not on the specific situation but anything that resembles it. It is a shortcut to feeling secure. When someone is afraid of dogs it is unusual that it involves a specific breed. Anything with hair and a long snout will keep you at a distance.
Stigma is similar. It is an attitude held for everyone without making an informed decision regarding the specifics. We see the long snout and draw from our minds a series of barks. We do not trust or expose ourselves to the new information because it is safer to be mistaken and impoverished of the individual than it is to be exposed to the negatives the group has been identified with.
I was blonde when it wasn’t fashion and Dumb Blonde Jokes were plentiful. When we assume someone’s intelligence is co-related to hair colour we can chuckle at the absurdity. When we assume the mentally ill are dangerous or violent and that they should be institutionalized it has a direct impact on their treatment. Blondes weren’t being put back in school because people thought they were stupid. The mentally ill are affected by attitudes. If you cross the street what does an employer do? If you laugh at us what does the world do but laugh with you? If you close yourself off to the specifics of someone with a mental illness you may remain safe but you will be immersed in your own ignorance.
If you keep your distance from dogs you may never be bitten but you can be guaranteed you will never be licked.