B Stigma-Free is a social movement. A vision. An ideal path – an aspiration. When we first envisioned B Stigma-Free, we planned to focus on the stigma associated with mental illness. As professionals in the field of mental health, both of us actively advocate for improved mental health care. Last year’s horrific school shooting in neighboring Newtown, Connecticut shook the world, and pushed us into action. We have seen firsthand what the US Surgeon General first reported in 1999: Stigma is the most formidable obstacle to future progress in the arena of mental illness and health.[i] Stigma imparted by others hurts. It leads to self-stigma, which impedes individuals and family members from accessing needed services. The consequences are real, and they affect us all.
Stigma is a negative belief about someone or something that is oftentimes unfair and untrue. As we explored its impact with others it became apparent that stigma is a pervasive problem throughout our culture. It affects people for a multitude of reasons, not just mental illness, and the consequences are devastating. People with HIV/AIDS, those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ), people who are obese, disabled, disfigured. People with food restrictions, people with disease — the list goes on. Our message of inclusiveness doesn’t feel true if we aren’t truly inclusive. We need to represent all stigmatized groups.
Our goal is to foster a more compassionate, accepting community that rejects stigma. We are all part of society, with our similarities and differences. If we let negative stereotypes or fear drive our thinking, discrimination inevitably follows. We cannot let our differences divide us. Rather, we must embrace what sets us apart, and accept each other for who we are. We need to be ourselves, and let others be themselves. We need to be. Just b.
Nurturing an understanding and accepting culture requires a team effort. Although B Stigma-Free provides education and advocacy, to succeed we need you, as an individual, an organization and a community. We invite you to partner with us and share our commitment to empower all members of society by eliminating stigma. With your support, B Stigma-Free helps people understand what stigma is, how it creates harm, and how to eliminate it.
Stigma degrades and discredits people, destroys dignity and self-esteem, violates basic human rights, marginalizes individuals, and compromises the happiness and quality of life of those oppressed and judged. The consequences of stigma are far-reaching and include bullying, shaming, and social withdrawal. Stigma has become so pervasive that people who desperately need help are often unwilling to reach out for fear of being judged.
Solving these social challenges requires our active engagement. Philosophical musings are not enough. Compassion and true rejection of stigma must be modeled by adults, embraced by young adults, introduced early in life and cultivated in our children. Only then will these values become embedded in our culture and woven into the fabric of our society. These are ambitious goals. Change is needed now. We cannot wait. Join us in our mission, take action and b.
Loretta Jay and Cheryll Houston
Co-Founders, B Stigma-Free