Exploring Stigma

*This was written for a teen-based publication, Evoke Magazine, but can be applied to all ages*

It’s an ugly little word that rears its ugly head in almost every aspect of human life.  But in order to combat stigma, we must first appreciate what it is, its negative power and the sneaky ways that we can all fall victim to it.

Stigma has the ability to create worry and self-doubt in anyone who bears its heavy brunt.  It has the ability to cause depressive thoughts, suicidal ideations and a negative self-image in impressionable young people.  It has the ability to change the way someone looks at the world.  It has the ability to take the drive and courage from a promising young mind with only a few words that can echo for a lifetime.

Stigma isn’t something that can be narrowed down to one specific set of behaviours.  It involves anything from labelling another as stupid, retarded, fat, nerdy, scrawny, crazy or any other demeaning term.  Essentially, it is deciding that someone else is inferior to you because you say so.

It isn’t until some people reach adulthood that they begin to realize the true impression that stigma left on their childhood experience.  Many young adults can speak at length of the pains of being labelled during elementary and high school.  It causes permanent damage and is certainly not something that is limited to the school experience.

The negative forces of stigma work in the real world as well.  They exist in creating political and racial divides, the stereotyping or profiling of minority groups and individuals and cause endless amounts of distress in our political and social world.  Unfortunately, much of that is out of our immediate hands.

However, it is the stigmas of everyday life that we can do something about.  When you break it down, stigma is caused by developing an uneducated assumption about a person or a group of people.  Therefore, stigma can be erased, or at least lessened, by becoming better educated about those around you.  Especially those who aren’t exactly like you.

It’s about not passing quick judgment on someone whose behaviour you might not understand.  It’s about not whispering to your friends in the hall that the desperately thin girl in front of you should just eat a hamburger.  It’s about not labelling a group of people ‘losers’ just because they don’t enjoy the same activities as you.  The bottom line is that it is about caring for your fellow humans and doing your part to ease the strain that we all feel as we struggle to find our place in the world.

Instead of labelling someone that is different than you, take the mature route and get to know them instead.  Get to appreciate your differences, which will in turn allow you to uncover your similarities.

Engage yourself and rise above stigma.  For the benefit of the future.