On The Importance Of Being Literate

Let’s look at definitions. Specifically let’s look at the definition of one of the words most frequently being bandied about in connection with the labeling of serious mental illnesses. Let’s look at stigma.

stig•ma
n. pl. stig•ma•ta or stig•mas
1. A mark or token of infamy, disgrace, or reproach: “Party affiliation has never been more casual . . . The stigmata of decay are everywhere” (Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.) See Synonyms at stain.
2. A small mark; a scar or birthmark.
3. Medicine A mark or characteristic indicative of a history of a disease or abnormality.
4. Psychology A mark or spot on the skin that bleeds as a symptom of hysteria.
5. stigmata Bodily marks, sores, or sensations of pain corresponding in location to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus, usually occurring during states of religious ecstasy or hysteria.
6. Biology A small mark, spot, or pore, such as the respiratory spiracle of an insect or an eyespot in certain algae.
7. Botany The receptive apex of the pistil of a flower, on which pollen is deposited at pollination.
8. Archaic A mark burned into the skin of a criminal or slave; a brand.

The Free Dictionary stigma

Putting a social before the word stigma doesn’t make it something you can just wash off with soap and water.

Some people have argued that stigma is a religious term, and that perhaps another term would be better used in these cases. Who, after all, has an eternity to endure the Mark of Cain or the Sign of the Cross in. I think the above definition bears out the truth of this view.

(No, I don’t think there are all these uncaught whack jobs out there that are not coming forward to receive their treatment or, *cough* ‘help’, on account of some ‘stigma’ pertaining to whack jobs.)

There are, in my opinion, better words to use. Words that even a politician might understand. Words like prejudice.

prej•u•dice
n.
1.
          a. An adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge or examination of the facts.
          b. A preconceived preference or idea.
2. The act or state of holding unreasonable preconceived judgments or convictions. See Synonyms at predilection.
3. Irrational suspicion or hatred of a particular group, race, or religion.
4. Detriment or injury caused to a person by the preconceived, unfavorable conviction of another or others.
tr.v. prej•u•diced, prej•u•dic•ing, prej•u•dic•es
1. To cause (someone) to judge prematurely and irrationally. See Synonyms at bias.
2. To affect injuriously or detrimentally by a judgment or an act.

The Free Dictionary prejudice

The ex-patient movement has had its share of Rosa Parks. Do we speak of stigma when we speak about the adversity faced by women and African Americans? No. People are prejudiced against certain people on account of their skin color, gender, or what have you, and they discriminate against those people who are perceived as being somehow different from themselves.

dis•crim•i•nate
v. dis•crim•i•nat•ed, dis•crim•i•nat•ing, dis•crim•i•nates
v.intr.
1.
          a. To make a clear distinction; distinguish: discriminate among the options available.
          b. To make sensible decisions; judge wisely.
2. To make distinctions on the basis of class or category without regard to individual merit; show preference or prejudice: was accused of discriminating against women; discriminated in favor of his cronies.
v.tr.
1. To perceive the distinguishing features of; recognize as distinct: discriminate right from wrong.
2. To distinguish by noting differences; differentiate: unable to discriminate colors.
3. To make or constitute a distinction in or between: methods that discriminate science from pseudoscience

The Free Dictionary discriminate

We are in this instance referring specifically to definition 2.

2. To make distinctions on the basis of class or category without regard to individual merit; show preference or prejudice: was accused of discriminating against women; discriminated in favor of his cronies.

This is important. Some people don’t ‘get it’. The English language need not be your lack of understanding of that language.

I’ve also heard the view expressed that mental illness doesn’t discriminate, or that it is indiscriminate, and that anybody can be stricken with it. What I say when I hear such a view expressed is, “What evidence do you have to support your hypothesis?” Facts and figures are what count. Prove it! We know people discriminate, if your illness discriminates, too, we shouldn’t ignore that discrimination. Merely saying it, in other words, doesn’t make it so.

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