A New Paradigm For Stigma

This blog  “A New Paradigm For Stigma” was originally posted on the CAMH blog under Build – Social change.

Stigma has been a constant sidekick throughout my personal and family experience with mental illness, addiction, recovery, and well-being. Working in youth mental health education, I’ve come to believe that the most effective way of reducing stigma is to empower people to embody the characteristics of empathy, love, patience, resilience, and understanding. Without the human experience of internalizing these qualities, telling people to STOP doing something is as effective as using straw to build a skyscraper.We need a paradigm shift in the way we discuss stigma. Stigma exists and is not going away. Trying to fight it, smash it, or go to war against it is futile. These frames of reference limit our ability to embody the change we want. It is time for us to shift our perspectives from fighting to enlightening. We need to enlighten people on their ability to be compassionate, loving, understanding and patient.

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
― R. Buckminster Fuller

When I present or speak about mental health and stigma, I never tell people to stop or fight stigma. Instead, I do my best to invite them to discover the love, empathy, and understanding that exist in all of us. I hope to empower people to be an example of the solution instead of a barrier.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
―Mahatma Gandhi

If we do not want to be stigmatized, then let’s help people learn why we are similar to them. This fighting mentality is not going to foster open, healthy dialogue that’s going to allow us to be examples of what we are expecting from others. This type of language “stigmatizes” others because it creates an “us vs them” scenario. The confrontational mindset is not supportive to changing how we engage in discussions about mental health. This position does not free us from the “mind” that creates stigma; it is the other side of the stigma coin.

“We can not solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
―Albert Einstein

I’m in love with the idea of eradicating stigma. I’m also in love with the idea of humanity turning into loving, caring, and compassionate people. Reality tells me either of these situations is highly unlikely. One thing is certain, we have a much better chance of creating a better world if we chose to work on the latter.

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