December 15, 2017

Stigma Change Processes

Back in July, we discussed what stigma is and where it comes from. Click here to read that article again. While this information is useful, the most important thing to know about stigma is that, in a perfect world, it wouldn’t exist. In this post, we’re going to discuss how we can reverse and eliminate stigma. This information is what WISE uses to frame its goals and accomplish its mission to build resilience, inclusion, and hope in Wisconsin’s communities. Research by CA Ross and EM Goldner indicates that, in any given situation, we can be stigmatizers, stigmatized, or de-stigmatizers. This means we’re either contributing to, receiving, or reversing stigmatizing behaviors. Obviously, we at WISE strive for the latter and encourage others to do the same! Below are common ways that others have attempted, or you can attempt, to reduce or eliminate stigma: Protest – Protests usually garner a lot of attention thanks to media coverage, which can be positive or negative depending on the nature of the protest. The issue here is to be aware of the unintended consequences of well-intended actions. For instance, protests have the potential to have a rebound effect and actually increase negative stereotypes. For example, when the cast on Duck Dynasty made strong declarations against same-sex marriage, people protested the show, suggesting others no longer watch or purchase items related to the show. Rather than have the intended effect, highlighting the issue without any accompanying support for a change in attitude, actually emboldened those in agreement with the stigma. The result was that ratings and sales increased. Education – Education is often tried as a way to reverse stereotypes. For instance, we can dispel the myth that people with mental illness are dangerous by teaching people that people with untreated mental illness are only slightly more dangerous, especially when using drugs or alcohol. In fact, compared to people without a mental illness, people with a mental illness are actually more likely to be victims of violence. The real question is: does having that additional knowledge actually decrease personal or public stigma? Unfortunately, the answer is often no. More often than not, our opinions stay the same or change in the short term but revert to our previously held stereotype in the long term. Knowledge is not enough to reverse stereotypes that elicit strong emotions such as of fear. Contact – The preferred way to effectively end stigma is to have meaningful contact with those who are living in recovery with mental health challenges. This is what WISE is all about. Hearing that others have faced mental health challenges, found a path of recovery, and have a satisfying life even if dealing with ongoing challenges, is the best way to decrease stigma and offer realistic hope to aid our own recovery. Resilience is the capacity to succeed and thrive, despite experiencing trauma, mental illness, and/or addiction. Recovery is a process of change through which people work to improve their health and well-being, live a self-directed life, and strive to achieve their full potential. The difference between this approach and education is that exposure to people’s stories and lived experiences are much more emotional and the brain makes deeper connections when emotions are involved along with factual information, which is why talking to those with lived mental health experience is so effective. In general, stigma change processes can be measured in terms of their effectiveness by the chart below.


Media-Based In-Person
Protest X X
Education XX XX
This information shows that if you’re really looking to end stigma, put yourself in a position to interact with those who live with mental health challenges and encourage others to do the same. To start right now you, can watch a video or two of people sharing their stories of recovery made by Community Learning and Engagement, a WISE partner, click here. To be a part of WISE’s ongoing efforts, you can also sign up for the WISE newsletter below for more information or attend a WISE meeting to get more involved. Thanks, Lucy, and the WISE team