The Thing About Stigma

It seems okay, maybe even noble, to talk about a broken arm, cancer or kidney disease, but somehow it is not okay to talk about schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Why?

It’s about perception.

Somehow, we have been given (and are sending) the message that the mind isn’t as important as what can be seen physically, and that mental illness is something that should never be publicly spoken of. We worry that society is not accepting of this.

This worry of how society views us forms the foundation of societal stigma.

What is Stigma?

20140219-015223.jpgTaken from

stigma (n.) Look up stigma at Dictionary.com1590s (earlier stigme, c.1400), “mark made on skin by burning with a hot iron,” from Latin stigma (plural stigmata), from Greek stigma (genitive stigmatos) “mark of a pointed instrument, puncture, tattoo-mark, brand,” from root of stizein “to mark, tattoo,” from PIE root *steig- “to stick; pointed” (see stick (v.)). 

Figurative meaning “a mark of disgrace” in English is from 1610s. Stigmas “marks resembling the wounds on the body of Christ, appearing supernaturally on the bodies of the devout” is from 1630s; earlier stigmate (late 14c.), from Latin stigmata.

‘Stigma’ denotes being labelled, losing dignity, being shamed, rejected and deemed worthless.

It’s only human that we like to present the best parts of ourselves to the world, whether we do it consciously or not. Nobody likes being embarrassed, no one appreciates being ostracized. We are, by nature, as what Aristotle calls a ‘social animal’ that needs to be part of a society or community.

So this fear — of being excluded by our loved ones, our communities, our workplaces and being shunned by society at large — is a very real one, particularly in Singapore where “losing face” is to be avoided at all costs.

This fear is also the very thing that keeps us from getting well.

What Does It Take to Remove Stigma?

In a word — courage.

We need courage to first acknowledge we have a problem. Secondly, we need to have courage to do something about it. And thirdly, there needs to be a conversation about the problem, so that others are helped.

When people are educated on the truths (instead of the myths) of mental illness, only then can it be destigmatized.

There will be people who will never understand, and that’s okay. They will do what they do. But we can only do what we can.

Mental illness is treatable.

Would you be brave enough to speak up and share your story on mental illness and recovery? If so, we welcome you. Get in touch at (at) gmail (dot) com


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