End the Stigma

It is time to challenge stigma and end the devastating consequences of stigma. Telling our stories is one way to fight back. Stories shape our worldviews and words have immense power. They can reinforce structural inequality or tear apart prejudice. The stories we are told throughout our lives, both real and imagined, color the lens through which we interpret the world.

Removing stigma does not make the problem acceptable, it makes it acceptable to discussadmitacceptask for help, and recover.

What is Stigma?

Blame and Shame

Stigma shames victims and those afflicted with disease. Stigma blames people for their own victimhood or illness.


Stigma is like a negative mark that identifies a person as being different in a wildly stereotyped way. It is a pervasive degrading attitude.

Internalized Prejudice

Stigma is internalized by the person being stigmatized and frequently prevents victims and sufferers from coming forward or asking for help.

Advice for Traveling with Chronic Illness

You can travel if you have a chronic health problem. One of the most important things is preparation. Do your research on the location, take the proper medications and supplements with you, and be aware of your limitations. Airlines have a form called the Passenger Medical Information Form (MEDIF) where you can explain any special needs you may have. A quick google search will bring up airline sites with links to their MEDIF forms. Arrange with your airline for a meal that meets your dietary restrictions. Do research on the destination. Learn about the kinds of foods on offer and find out what is safe for you to indulge in. Discuss any medical concerns with your doctor. Finding good travel health insurance is difficult, most cover emergencies only. So be sure research the healthcare policies of your destination.

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Myth of Willpower

Many conditions, such as addiction or obesity, are not caused or cured by willpower. Judging people for not utilizing their (imagined) willpower is stigmatizing.

"You Don't Seem Sick"

A healthy person can find it hard to believe that you were able to go grocery shopping but couldn’t go to work and be productive. Being sick in our society is thought of as something that must literally keep you in bed all day. The reality is much different – pain and suffering is usually not manifested in our outward physical appearance.

Judgmental Outsiders

“Oh, you’re feeling really really fatigued? So am I! I have three kids, two hyper dogs, and a rooster next door that is loud as hell. I haven’t slept since 2004. How could you be so tired? You have no kids and no real responsibilities!” Sure we’re using the same word here, but they are different kinds of tiredness.

Expats at Risk of Mental Disorders

The primary reason people don’t seek help is because of the shame, stigma, and discrimination associated with depression and other mental disorders. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, an estimated 66 percent of people with diagnosable mental disorders do not try and get help. Worldwide people with mental health issues face discrimination on a daily basis. The World Health Organization even states, “There are many who would argue that the most disadvantaged in any society are the stigmatized mentally ill.” Health professionals, like Melissa Pinto, PHD, RN, and a professor at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Nursing, say that stigma associated with “mental illness is a national health problem.”

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Donald Trump Reinforces Mental Illness Stigma

Trump and surrogates for his campaign, such as Dr. Ben Carson and Chris Christie, have continually blamed gun violence on mental illness. During the third Republican candidates’ debate, in October 2015, Trump perpetuated an untrue and damaging stigma by conflating mental illness and gun violence.

There is a difference between mental illness and mental health. Just because someone is making bad choices, it doesn’t mean they have a mental illness. Labeling everyone who seems unbalanced as someone with a diagnosable mental disorder increases stigma for people who have mental disorders. When every greedy fame seeker is diagnosed by armchair psychologists as a narcissistic pathological liar, it does a disservice to the millions of Americans who experience mental illness every year.

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Photos provided by: Mescalino. All other photos either public domain, by Kristance Harlow, or credited elsewhere on the website. Linked content attribution not included.