Stigma can be defined as a set of negative and unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about a certain issue. Misunderstanding and fear about substance use and mental illness can often lead to prejudice against individuals living with these issues. People who experience prejudice and discrimination can also experience feelings of hopelessness and shame, which can result in barriers to diagnosis and treatment.
There are three types of stigma:
- Social/public stigma
- Structural stigma (e.g., in educational institutions, medical clinics, hospitals)
Stigma leads to:
- Barriers to health services, education, training, housing and employment
- Reduced social support and increased social isolation
- Self-doubt, feelings of shame and hopelessness
- Policies and laws that restrict opportunities or punish stigmatized individuals more than others (negative labels may influence officials who make decisions about the availability of services, research funding, and laws)
- Reduced diagnosis, treatment and support seeking behaviours
Are you interested in learning more about overcoming stigma? Check out these free online modules:
CCSA Module 1: The Pain of Stigma
CCSA Module 2: Insights on Substance Use
CCSA Module 3: Stigma Ends with Me
CAMH Mental Health and Addiction 101 Series – Stigma
Seven things you can do to reduce stigma:
- Know the facts. Educate yourself about mental illness including substance use disorders.
- Be aware of your attitudes and behaviour. Examine your own judgmental thinking, reinforced by upbringing and society.
- Choose your words carefully. The way we speak can affect the attitudes of others.
- Educate others. Pass on facts and positive attitudes; challenge myths and stereotypes.
- Focus on the positive. Mental illness, including addictions, are only part of anyone’s larger picture.
- Support people. Treat everyone with dignity and respect; offer support and encouragement.
- Include everyone. It’s against the law to deny jobs or services to anyone with these health issues.
- On my way to wellness – Community Addictions Peer Support Association (CAPSA)
- Stigma around drug use – Health Canada
- End Stigma Video – Health Canada
- Stigma tree – National Coalition for Harm Reduction
- Why Words Matter – Health Canada
- Beyond Stigma – Subject Matter Lab
- Overcoming Stigma Through Language – Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addictions