The word ‘stigma’ should be used carefully, cautiously | Letter

May 12, 2016

Editor, The Beacon:

Liza Patchen-Short said, “Mental health has such a huge stigma that we need to work together as a community to overcome,” and Heather Thomas said, “I hope it really does reduce the stigma around mental health; that it’s not something we should be ashamed to talk about” [“Resource fair focuses on youth mental health,”, May 4].

Well, at least Liza Patchen-Short and Heather Thomas are honest about their prejudice. Now perhaps someone will not just repeat it, but help them overcome it.

When someone says there is a stigma to mental illnesses they do not fully appreciate it is they who are saying it.

When I hear (or read) someone saying there is a stigma to mental illnesses, I know it is they who are saying it, the words are issuing from them. (Were they to say there are people who issue that prejudice, they would be self-recognizing their words.)

Why they are saying those words falls into two categories: They are expressing that prejudice maliciously (which is ever rarer), or they are repeating (less cautiously, parroting) language they have heard so often it has lost its import to them. In so doing, they contribute to the repeating.

What, of course, ought to occur is that one question the person issuing the words. And here I am being cautious, it is the words they are issuing, very rarely the prejudice. (President Obama was advised to issue a statement, there is stigma to mental illnesses. I sincerely doubt he practices that prejudice, but he was induced to issue the words.)

My suggestion is always to ask, What do you mean by that? Then pay close attention to the responses, and to one’s own response in replying.

There has been (purposeful past tense) considerable misunderstanding of mental illnesses. In discussing them we are learning more and more, are becoming more aware and more sensitive.


Harold A. Maio,

Retired mental health editor,

Ft. Myers, Florida


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