Society has found a place for some group of people and that place is their hell; where they feel derision, loneliness and identity-death. Society, in safeguarding its wellbeing from perceived danger, endangers the wellbeing of some of its own, it’s a scar on our existence as a human race.
Stigmatisation, the assignment of negative perceptions to an individual because of perceived difference from the population at large has been a global epidemic from time immemorial. It may occur on the basis of: physical appearance (including race or sex), of mental or physical illness, or of various other qualities and other disease conditions such as HIV/ AIDS, Leprosy, Colon Cancer, Erectile Dysfunction and other disorders or disabilities.
For some conditions, the world has been oblivious of the fact that stigma is the biggest obstacle to recovery, treatment, harnessing the potentials and societal acceptance of people living with them. We erroneously claim the conditions are curses, or consequences of their victims’ lifestyles.
While the western world battles mostly with racial stigma, stigma and discrimination against those living with especially mental and other degrading physical health conditions is widespread on the African continent. Its hypha extends into our educational institutions, workplaces, homes, health care centres, in the media and even in the churches /mosques. It is common to see somebody suffering epileptic seizures abandoned by fellow humans for fear of contracting it upon contact.
Stigmatisation induces shame, prejudice, apathy, and hopelessness in its victims. And in the case of manageable health conditions, such negative sentiments prevent over half of those living with such conditions from seeking treatment.
With time, depersonalisation of the individuals sets in yielding as pitiful a statement as “I am not a human being.” We must begin to question our conscience. Must it continue this way? Does stigmatisation solve any problem or it rather deepens it? That’s for us to ponder.
Discrimination at work or school, bullying, physical violence or harassments, low self-esteem, tagging or labelling as ‘abodam’ (madman), accompany stigma. It is noteworthy that the immediate and even remote families of a stigmatised individual often experience significant social disadvantages from their friends and society at large.
Indeed, some cultures are socialised in such a way that one family could reject a marriage arrangement between theirs and another whose family has a history of mental illness, epilepsy, Leprosy etc. It has resulted in several instances where families abandon one or more of theirs to the harshness of fate in circumstances that may compromise their image; bringing about institutionalisation.
Just take some few minutes out of your busy schedule and visit the hospitals and psychiatric wings, you would find some inmates telling you they have no family just because no one seems to care about them for several years as they were brought into the facilities. Depending on the social welfare department then becomes the resort for those facilities catering for them.
National policies could also hold a subtle unintended notion of stigmatisation; Health Insurance not adequately covering some health conditions is a typical example.
It’s high time we created a sense of belonging in people suffering stigma by actively and humanely engaging and accepting them. Such positive attitudes towards the victims may perform wonders in healing psychotic disorders in people. Such may also mitigate significantly the discrimination that characterise their status.
Perhaps it is impossible for other workers themselves to intensify anti-stigma programs; what, they should and can do nonetheless, is to examine their own behavior and mannerisms to ensure that they do not contribute to stigmatisation and its consequent discrimination against people at their various homes and workplaces.
It will take all of us to make a colossal difference but we must on our own dedicate effort to the small ones. Stigmatisation is a disease that needs love to cure.
Perez Jonathan Quarshie