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.


Stigma has devastating consequences, it feeds discrimination and causes direct harm by denying access to care, limiting access to jobs and housing, and contributing to abuse.

Internalized Prejudice

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

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 there are different kinds of fatigue.

Ending 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.