What is Stigma?
Stigma is when people have negative beliefs, views or attitudes about individuals that belong to a certain group. Often the result of stigma is discrimination such as excluding people with learning disabilities or mental health issues from experiences and activities that are open to other people.
Many of us don’t even realise that in our day to day behaviour and language we are discriminating against some groups of people.
People with mental illness feel diminished, devalued and fearful because of the negative attitude society holds toward them. As a result, people struggling with mental health challenges may not get the help they need for fear they’ll be discriminated against.
There is now a growing Hearing Voices movement, including networks at local, national and international levels, which is challenging the notion that to hear voices is necessarily a characteristic of mental illness. Instead it regards hearing voices as a meaningful and understandable, although unusual, human variation. It therefore rejects the stigma of hearing voices and advocates human rights, social justice and support for people who hear voices that is empowering and recovery focused.
Hearing voices is more common than you might think. If you hear voices, do not think that you are alone. Many famous people and important people throughout history have at some time in their lives been voice hearers. On the Hearing Voices Network Wales website there is a large number of descriptions of these different people, from Ludvig van Beethoven to Anthony Hopkins:
The people in the following videos include those who have heard voices but were able to succeed in their life goals and careers despite these challenges. They share their stories of how they have coped, and how they now want to help others in a similar situation.
Stigma and Labels
Some people feel that stigma is shown in the way we describe voice hearing, various mental health challenges or other disabilities. Marius Romme, Sandra Escher and Tim O’Kennedy’s “Labeling our brains: a new frame of reference for human intelligence” (2009) is an interesting academic article which suggests that we should not put labels on people with mental health challenges, such as schizophrenia:
Francesca Martinez’s What the *** is Normal? (Virgin Books, 2014) is an autobiographical book where the author talks about how she feels about labeling and disability when coping with cerebral palsy.