Updated: Jan 16
What really is a social stigma? It’s a term used so often that many people don’t know its true meaning. According to Wikipedia, it’s “the disapproval of, or discrimination against, a person based on perceivable social characteristics that serve to distinguish them from other members of society.” In other words, a social stigma is the discrimination or negative componenets associated with issues like mental health and disabilities. But how has society morphed this seemingly simple concept? Currently, prevalent stigmas are centered around mental health, the LGBTQ+ community, and racism from COVID-19.
Mental health is a topic that many people feel uncomfortable talking about. Some are afraid to ask for help and feel embarrassed to share their issues. The stigma surrounding mental health today is partly due to the way the media portrays it. In movies or in the news, people with mental health disorders are often considered as “violent,” “crazy,” or “mentally unstable.” Stereotypes such as, “People with depression are just sad” or “People with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) are just clean-freaks” deepen the feasibility of waving it off. However, this is not the case. Mental health disorders are just like physical disorders and can affect anyone. They do not mean that you are weak, worthless, or that it is just “all in your mind.” You are a living being with strength, potential, and the ability to change the world, big or small.
Sexual minorities are more likely to have mental health disorders, contemplate suicide, and live shorter lives than their heterosexual counterparts. Members of the LGBTQ+ community often face bigotry from their parents, friends, and the rest of society. Same-sex marriage was not made nationally legal by the Supreme Court until 2015, and most sexual minorities are still afraid to come out to their loved ones. It is still legal in some states for businesses to deny care or services to people based on their sexual orientation, but it’s important to remember that there is nothing wrong with peoples’ sexual orientations or with embracing them. Sexual orientation isn’t something you can choose, so why are people being oppressed for something completely natural?
After COVID-19 emerged from Wuhan, China in late 2019, fear and discrimination began to suffocate the Asian community. Asians, not just Chinese-Americans, became subjected to verbal and physical violence due to false accusations of them “starting the virus.” Later, people began calling COVID-19 the “Wuhan Virus,” the “Chinese Virus,” and “Kung Flu.” As a result, members of the Asian community have had to grapple with the fear of being harassed in public, often hesitating to even leave their houses. The normalized racism against Asians has a devastating effect on how they view themselves and their own worth in society. Misinformation and racism are two of the leading causes of this stigma, so it is increasingly important to get information from reliable sources.
Unfortunately, just knowing about these social stigmas is not enough. You can speak up against negative statements and behavior, educate members of your community, and remain open-minded to help prevent and stop these stigmas. It is not enough to simply be “not racist”--you have to take a stance and become anti-racist.
By: Alexandra Chu