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What is stigma?

Stigma is a societal reaction which singles out certain attributes, evaluates them as undesirable, and devalues the persons who possess them. Agnes Miles 1981

Dictionary definitions include stigma as a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as on one's reputation.

Goffmen defines stigma as an "attribute that is deeply discrediting".

Tackling stigma - campaigns and approaches

There are three main approaches that underpin activities that seek to tackle stigma. They are:

  1. "Illnesses like any other". Activities that assume stigma is caused by people not recognising that mental health problems are illnesses like any other and a belief that unless distress is seen as part of an illness, people will blame sufferers for their own problems.
  2. "Social Model of Disability". Activities that draw on ideas from the wider disability movement, namely the 'social model' of disability. This proposes that, rather than the problem for people with disabilities being the actual impairment, most difficulties lie in the way society organises itself.
  3. "A natural and normal response to life experiences". Activities that are based on the idea that mental health problems are a natural and normal responses to the terrible things that can happen to us. This approach assumes that making sure that people's experiences seem more understandable will help to tackle stigma by enabling people to empathise more. There is increasing evidence that even the most severe mental health problems are not the result simply of faulty genes or brain chemicals (i.e. "mental illness").

Tell us what you think

What do you think causes stigma? Which approach(s) do you think will be most effective? What activities do you think might work best? Share your ideas, experiences and tell us if you would like to be more involved in activities that seek to "tackle stigma"?

Let us know what you think by contacting us on 01686 628 300 or 01597 822191, or email us at mentalhealth(at)pavo.org.uk. Or you can tell us by completing our confidential feedback form (you only need to complete question 4) here.

Activities - A natural and normal response to life experiences

  • Powys - Powys Mental Health Blog. More here.
  • Wales - A Little Insight - Young people from the Voice Collective came together to create this stigma busting animation. 2 minute video
  • Powys - DIY Futures Book - 12 people's stories from Powys. More here.

Activities - "illness like any other approach"

  • UK and Wales - Time To Change Campaign. More here.
  • England - Talk Out Loud - a group of young people in England who are voicing their opinions to change the stigma of mental health. More here.
  • UK - Saneline Black Dog Campaign. Watch a film on You Tube here. More here.

Stigma and mental health strategy in Wales

Tackling the stigma surrounding mental health problems is identified in many strategies relevant to Wales.

  • Together for Mental Health - National Welsh Strategy. More here.
  • Powys Hearts and Minds - Powys Strategy. More here.

Articles on stigma that may be of interest ...

Unconventional Wisdom? Time To Challenge - Tackling Stigma. Laura Gallagher. More here.

When The Ads Don't Work. Anne Cooke and Dave Harper. More here.

Stigma-Free Support Needed for Positive Recovery Parenting. Heidi Tweedie, explores some of the issues facing parents who experience mental ill-health. Read her article here.


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