Stigma is defined as a mark of shame or discredit. It often keeps an individual separated from others in a social function, whether through appearance, trait, or illness.
With the recent portrayals of famous actors and actresses on characters with various mental illnesses, and physical deformities, we are once again given examples of different characteristics of a stigmatized individual. While some may doubt the accuracy of the depictions shown, the general reaction towards a stigmatized person is negative, ranging from the words frightening, harmful, violent, and dangerous. How much does the world know about different stigmas, such as mental illnesses and physical disabilities? Timely and careful research may give us answers in the future. For now, let us take these personal steps in realizing how we can help persons suffering from various stigmas.
1. Education. Helping others starts with helping ourselves. Whether we are allied health degree holders or not, specifically psychology, nursing, or medicine, taking time to read basic concepts about stigmatized illnesses such as mental illness and leprosy may give us an idea how one acquires a condition, and how we can manage to promote safety for the person and the general public. Also, taking time in learning therapeutic ways of talking to a person may help us not only in dealing with the stigmatized person, but also in coping with life, and helping our friends and family when they are in stressful situations, or in stages of grieving. Such blocks of knowledge are hard to learn, even for most nurses and doctors, but taking this step is very important in taking away the stigma. Remember, the first step is always the hardest, but without it, nothing else follows.
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2. Empowerment. With our newly learned concepts, we can share to our friends and family what we have achieved, self-empowerment. Sharing our knowledge will not only let them take part in our goal, but it will also multiply our first step, increasing our chance of helping. They may or may not become interested after learning, but who knows when they will realize that they could also be an agent of change. What is important in this step is that we became a bridge between the stigmatized individual, and our inner circle. Remember, the fruits of knowledge can only be sweeter when applied by other men.
3. Encourage. Aside from sharing our knowledge, we can also make our friends and family realize that they can emulate what we do, and share their new-found knowledge. With their knowledge influencing their thoughts and actions, they will soon find it comfortable to share concepts about various illnesses, and how proper knowledge can change the way a person will think about such conditions. Remember, one successful bridge will lead to another step towards our goal. The sooner that it reaches the persons that need enlightenment, the more beneficial it is for persons suffering from stigma.
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4. Eradicate. This step will not be accomplished without the previous steps. If we reach this destination, then we are successful in helping shape a new way of thinking towards the stigmatized individuals. If the general public is well educated about various conditions, even with only the basic concepts in hand, we can say that stigma is something we overcame with a collective effort.
5. Establish. This last step needs a strong effort from the society. The change in perception must be kept well-established in order to fully attain the fruits of success, and to inspire more people. Eventually, such inspiration will strengthen the established way of thinking, leading to a developed society, and most importantly a better life for our fellowmen.