Stigma is defined by sociologist Erving Goffman as, ‘the process by which the reactions of others spoils normal identity.’ Stigma is attributed to those individuals whose behaviour goes against societal norms.
Stigma aims to serve society in the form of supposedly providing protection for the people part of that society. Along with the aim to serve the ‘stigmatiser’ – in that it is meant to make them feel better about themselves as they look down upon the stigmatised.
In relation to mental illness; it promises to protect people from the stigmatised (i.e. those with mental health diagnosis’s) – as diagnostic characteristics are (wrongly) generally viewed as being ‘dangerous’
However; when 1 in 3 are affected by mental health problems, the stigmatisers are likely to be affected by the very issue they stigmatise and find themselves lumped into the very group they stigmatise, who benefits?
It could be argued that stigma exists to serve the larger portion of society. But when such a large portion of society (1 in 3!) are affected this stigma can only serve to have a negative impact on our society as a whole.
Stigma towards mental illness does not serve the purpose it aims to in order to be useful to society as a whole.
Stigma creates/contributes to mental health problems.
Take for example, stigma by association in regards to mental illness. Which is the negative impact stigma has on those people, who don’t necessarily have a mental health diagnosis themselves, whom are known to be in contact either personally or professionally with those who do have a mental health diagnosis.
The impact of this stigma on the stigmatised.
The negative impact this stigma has on the stigmatised include, limited job and career prospects; social isolation; decreased access to treatment, including general medical care.
I fail to see how this could serve society as a whole in a positive way.
The impact of stigma on those whom are already suffering from a mental illness is unhelpful. It does not protect people, like it ‘aims’ or ‘promises’ to.
Who exactly benefits from this stigma?
I would say that nobody does. Not when 1 out of 3 of us are likely to be affected by mental illness at some point during our lifetime.
Edit (05/02/2013): Statistics show that 1 in 4 are affected by mental illness. According to this 2010 Guardian article, there is no 'hard evidence' to support this statistic. Personally, I suspect mental illness is more prevalent than the current statistics show (I suspect that more than 1 in 3 people are affected!).