The widely used term stigma is a mark of shame or discredits from one person to another. This attitude can be a reason for hateful crimes in society. Sometimes people stigmatize another one without even knowing it. To mitigate the hatefulness of stigma, acknowledgment of the term is the first step.

Stigma is a mark of discredit. Stigma means negative behavior or discriminatory treatment to someone based on some characteristics like mental illness, a physical illness like AIDS, or other physical disability. There are other common reasons to get stigmatized like gender, race, marginality, sexuality, religion, etc. Goofman interprets stigma as a spoiling identity.  in general, the majority grow a tendency of “othering” people and mark them as dangerous and unfit for society, and eventually, that leads to stigmatization. Something which is not very common to the group of the majority has its potential to be stigmatized. For example, the LGBT community. People face violence, inequality, and get murdered for who they love. The LGBT community are more likely to be rejected by society and their family. 40% of homeless youth in America are either Gay or bisexual showed a study in 2009.

There are three types of identified stigma. First, the stigma associated with psychological disorders. second, the stigma associated with physical distortion and third, the stigma associated with social identification which may include race, ethnicity, religion, ideology, etc. These are named as “abomination of the body” (physical deformities) as a “character” (dishonesty, mental disorder, and homosexuality) tribal (race, sex, religion) as the three types of stigma.

Psychological stigma not necessarily is associated with mental illness. It can be a stigma against a drug addict or alcoholism. Stigma related to mental illness is present in almost every society and every culture which always made a barrier to the health-seeking process and recovery. A person with a mental disorder has to go through double challenges, they have to suffer from the symptoms and disabilities also with the stereotypes associated with it. Psychological stigma can be described in three ways: structural stigma, public stigma, and self-stigma.

Public stigma creates a set of negative attitude and principles that motivate a person to fear, avoid, deny and discriminate against people who have a psychological disorder, whereas, structural stigma refers to the societal norms, policies, and conditions which constraint the opportunity, resource, and wellbeing of the stigmatized. When a person with a mental health diagnostic becomes aware of these stigmas and agrees with the stereotypes, it internalizes them by applying these stigmas to themselves which is considered as self-stigmatization.

Stigmatization has a process of affecting other people who do not have a mental illness or any psychological disorder. For example, a person having a different appearance, skin color, disability, disease, or victims of different attacks (e.g. acid attacks, rapes, and so on) are commonly being stigmatized too. Albinism a congenital disorder where lack of melanin in the skin leaves it whiter. Albinism in Africa for instance is widely regarded as a form of deformity, for reasons that are non-explanatory. They receive unwelcoming behavior all across the world almost from all types of social organizations. On the same note, people fear the HIV patient not because it is a fatal disease rather, they fear it because they regard it as a fatal sin. Not only people who suffer from different diseases but also the people who belong to different groups or ideologies can be impacted by the social stigmatization process. For example, in different parts of the world, we have seen that when it comes to the case of black people, ethnic minorities, religious minorities, trans and bisexuals, people tend to have a negative attitude towards them.

There are some major consequences that stigma can bring which may lead to other socio-political massacres. Stigma can have an effect on income. The stigmatized population is most likely to face discrimination getting hired anywhere. It limits the possibility to have proper healthcare, especially proper psychological health care which may consequently lead to poor mental health and coping skills. Researchers found that those who have been rejected by their families and society are 8 times more likely to commit suicide and 3 times more likely to have illegal drugs and unsafe sex.

 Émile Durkheim, one of the founders of the social sciences, began to address the social marking of deviance in the late nineteenth century which addresses that Stigma has a long history and it is existing in society for a very long time. It’s not easy to remove it from society, maybe it’s either not even possible to uproot it totally. However, there should be some initiatives to reduce the horrifying effects of stigma. Social support is mandatory if we want to reduce the effect of stigma. People need to be educated about the fact so policymakers and political masters must act accordingly. A positive school environment could lessen the negative influence one receives from society. Identifying own space is necessary and cope with it, one has to have higher self-esteem which is actually very hard to have while being stigmatized. He should know that he is not alone and has a positive group identity.

Acknowledging stigma properly and being conscious of the phenomena can help a lot by reducing its effect on society.

Suggested readings

Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the management of a spoiled identity. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.


Author: Noushin Siddiqa Fariha. She is one of the Content Creators of Beyond Peace. She’s an undergraduate student of the Department of Anthropology, University of Dhaka. You can contact her at siddika.nf@beyond-peacemail.com