The Stigmatization Of People With Psychiatric Diagnoses

Stigmatization of patients with psychiatric diagnoses

Stigmatization is a process through which a person is awarded a set of characteristics that are considered socially undesirable. That’s why it is a process connected with discrimination and social exclusion

Unfortunately, stigmatization is also a highly frequent process in the clinical spaces where mental health professionals carry out their work (and not only in mental health). This has had very negative consequences for both people with a diagnosis and their families, which is why it is currently a relevant and highly discussed topic in different spaces.

In this article we explain What is stigmatization, why does it occur, what consequences has it had? and through which proposals have been attempted to mitigate in different contexts.

Psychosocial stigmatization: from stigma to discrimination

The use of the word “stigmatization” makes it possible for us to return to the concept of “stigma” and use it as a metaphor in social studies. Stigma in this context refers to a trait or condition that is attributed to a group of people and that causes negative attitudes or responses to be established towards them.

The application of the term “stigma” in sociology It was popularized by Erving Goffman in the 1960s, who would define it as a “deeply discrediting attribute” that is related to a negative stereotype about physical traits, behaviors, ethnic origin or individual conditions understood in terms of danger (e.g. diseases). , migration, diseases, crime).

Thus, stigmatization is the process through which a group acquires a differential trait or a “mark” of identification, which is valued by other groups as the outstanding trait, which results in different forms of discrimination towards that “marked” group. ”.

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The reason why stigmatization causes discrimination is because it is a process in which our attitudes, understood as a phenomenon of cognitive, affective and behavioral components ; Despite being different from each other, they are strongly connected.

It is these attitudes that help us classify or categorize what surrounds us in terms of “good” or “bad”, “undesirable” or “desirable”, “adequate” or “inappropriate”, which often also translates into “normal-abnormal”, “healthy-sick”, etc.

These categories, being loaded with affective and behavioral components, They allow us to establish parameters in interpersonal relationships For example, that we avoid approaching what we have categorized as “undesirable”, etc.

Who is usually affected?

Stigmatization is not a phenomenon that only affects people diagnosed with a mental disorder. It can affect a large number of people and for different reasons Generally speaking, we speak of “vulnerable” groups or groups to refer to people who are systematically exposed to being stigmatized and experiencing discrimination.

The “systematically” is important because far from being vulnerable per se, these are people who are constantly being vulnerable as a consequence of a certain organization and social structures. People who are constantly exposed to situations of exclusion, and who paradoxically have less chance of being protected.

In this sense, discrimination is not only an individual phenomenon (which determines how we relate to a specific person), but a structural one, which It is also found in policies, in manuals, in how public spaces are shaped in the other spheres of social life.

Thus, for example, there may be stigma, negative attitudes towards racialized people, towards people with disabilities, towards people in poverty, towards non-heterosexual people, towards people with different medical diagnoses, to name just a few.

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The danger as a stigma in “mental disorders”

The social imaginary of dangerousness in relation to “madness” has evolved significantly over time. This evolution has been largely reinforced by the care structures that still exist in many places.

For example, the asylum institutions on the outskirts of cities, which confirm the myth of danger in the social imagination; as occurs with coercive practices without informed consent, or with forced consent.

Danger and violence have become stigmas because they make that we recognize them as the outstanding features of the person who has the diagnosis with which the logical consequence is automatic and generalized exclusion, that is, it occurs even if the person has not committed violent acts.

Fear and exclusion: some consequences of this social phenomenon

If danger is what we evoke most quickly when we think of “disorders” or “mental illnesses,” then the closest logical reaction is to establish distance, because with danger our alarms are activated and with it our fears.

They are sometimes activated so automatically and involuntarily that it does not matter whether they are justified fears or not (many times the people who feel the most “fearful” are those who have never lived with someone who has a psychiatric diagnosis). The logical consequence of all this is that people with the diagnosis They are exposed to constant rejection and exclusion

And unfortunately, mental health professionals are often not exempt from the above. In fact, in an attempt to understand this phenomenon and counteract it, in recent decades a large number of scientific studies have been carried out that analyze the stigmas of health professionals towards users of services, and how this hinders care and creates more problems than solutions.

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Another consequence of stigmatization related to psychiatric diagnoses is that, being understood as something negative, dangerous and synonymous with chronic illness, source of constant discomfort people who may need the care of a mental health service are limited or stopped in seeking that care.

That is to say, stigmatization causes fear and rejection not only towards the people who have the diagnosis, but also towards going to mental health services, with which the discomfort intensifies, the suffering is not accompanied, the behaviors are they become more problematic, etc.

Alternatives and resistances

Fortunately, given the unpleasant panorama described above, the specific case of people who have a diagnosis of mental disorder has been proposed as a topic that deserves special attention since the people with the diagnosis themselves and their families have demonstrated against stigma and discrimination.

The latter has recently been supported by many mental health professionals, as well as by many public policies and international organizations. In fact, on October 10 of each year It has been established by the UN as the International Mental Health Day

Likewise, on different dates and places around the world, people with a diagnosis have demanded recognition of the diversity of bodies and experiences, as well as the need to continue fighting against stigma in mental health and seeking, above all, respect for rights. .