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I am working on an essay about stigma, and I hope to place it in an online magazine. Working on the essay, got me thinking about the word, stigma and how we use it. Stigma is a word I see used over and over again. I mostly see it in the addiction and mental illness circles. It is a word that gets thrown around a lot and not always in the correct way. So, what does stigma mean?

The definition given when you type “stigma definition” into Google, is “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.” It helps to read the synonyms which are: shame, disgrace, and dishonor, among other less common words.

So, most of us would agree there is a stigma around having a mental illness. What does that mean? Those of us with a mental illness have the “mark of disgrace.” It doesn’t mean that when you do something annoying and people call you out on it, that they are stigmatizing you. It also doesn’t mean that when people don’t like you (based on your behavior) that they are stigmatizing you. But if they are doing these things because of your mental illness, and because they believe you are a disgrace due to your mental illness, then yes, that is stigmatizing you.

I know it seems simple to talk about this, but I see people use their mental illness as an excuse and defense in almost every circumstance. It is one of my goals to point out what is and what isn’t a mental illness. I wrote the other day about the issue of flawed character vs. mental illness. Many of us with a mental illness are kind, compassionate, giving, loving, creative, honest, loyal, etc. In other words, we have a strong character. There are many people without a mental illness that are selfish, mean, dishonest, rude, and hurtful. (In my post I used the example of the people who didn’t bring Christmas gifts, but took a gift from the gift exchange even though it meant others who had followed the rules would go without a Christmas gift).  I wouldn’t leave someone without a gift, and I have schizophrenia. I know right from wrong except when I am psychotic which is a whole different world and category.

So, I bring up the word stigma because I see people claim that others are stigmatizing them when it doesn’t appear to be the case. Don’t get me wrong, stigma is real and grows thick especially when you have “the most dreaded of all the mental illnesses.” (I have seen that quote written just that way by three successful authors now. And it doesn’t slip past me, that the quote contains its kind of stigma.) Those of us with schizophrenia are put at the bottom of the rung – having the illness that is the “most dreaded.” What do you think it is like to have schizophrenia and read that quote over and over again by highly educated people? I will tell you what it is like, but that is in my essay. I will post a link to it if I get it published.

Stay tuned, for more on stigma.