I have asked what changes we might be willing to make, as neighbours, as friends, as relatives, as a society, that would contribute to eliminating stigma*. I didn’t ask the question because I had an answer, but because I wanted to think about it a little deeper than I have been. I have often declared to anyone who would listen, “we should educate people” but that seems to me now to be a meaningless phrase.
As with all needed social change, we need to get specific and focused. And I think part of that is looking more closely at “stigma” itself and what it is.
Like looking through the ‘wrong’ end of the telescope, we can view stigma from the perspective of the person experiencing it – or who might experience it.
Where would it begin? Does it perhaps begin when X feels depressed, for some reason? He tells his friend, who reacts with a lecture: “Buck up! Don’t be such a wimp!” Or if the friend is two-faced, he might just say “Cheer up. What about those Blue Jays!” while behind X’s back, he says to a neighbor, “I don’t know about X – he needs to get his act together.” So possibly because X doesn’t get to talk about his feelings, he feels powerless, his depression gets worse.
Had his friend said, “Want to talk about it?” right at the beginning, it might have made a difference to his prognosis. Instead, a fairly typical history might be: he mentions his depression to his doctor; his doctor refers him to a psychiatrist; the psychiatrist prescribes Prozac. X finds he is always sleeping now, and can’t seem to ‘get it up’ with his girlfriend. She gradually drifts away, and he feels even more alone. He is becoming increasingly isolated. He’s often late now, and screwing up at work. People are noticing, but not expressing concern to him – only behind his back. Let me count the sub-cultures that react this way!
In my imagination, an ideal social environment would include some people who have knowledge about depression. They encourage him to talk, help him get in touch with possible roots of his depression. He realizes that he needs to take action on some job issues. Different outcome. Different prognosis. Different world.
|*stigma- a distinguishing mark of social disgrace; the stigma of having been in prison (Collins Eng Dictionary)|