Where Does Stigma Come From?


Too often, I sit in meetings and discuss how we can decrease or ideally eliminate stigma. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of hours I have spent in these discussions over the past four decades. Encouraging people to become support systems has such a significant, positive impact on people recovering from mental health and substance use disorders. That is what keeps me involved in these discussions and stops me from giving up.

We are a world filled with people who are fearful of differentness or otherness. People who are slow to accept people, situations, and things that challenge the comfort of our belief system. We categorize every person we meet because it helps us to make sense of our world. Those that don’t fit into our categories get dropped into a bucket called “other.” For some, “other” means threat. We don’t respond well to threats. When it comes to people who threaten us with their otherness, we assign them a mark of disgrace to easily identify them as “other.” We may also deal aggressively with the identified others by shaming them, blaming them for countless things because of their otherness, giving them derogatory labels so everyone knows they are not to be trusted or isolating them so they don’t taint us with their differences.

Let’s challenge ourselves to explore our own thoughts, beliefs, and biases toward people with mental health and/or substance use disorders. If this describes you, are you willing to admit it? Own it? “Admitting” is the foundation of programs designed to help individuals with substance use disorders. “We admitted we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives.” “Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” “…when we were wrong promptly admitted it.” Admitting is the first step toward change.

If you need assistance with substance use disorder or behavioral health, please call Chestnut Health Systems at 888.924.3786 in central Illinois or 618.877.4420 in Madison and St. Clair Counties and Metro East Illinois.

About the Author

Author Joan Hartman
Title Vice President of Strategy and Public Policy

Joan Hartman has worked in the behavioral health field since 1984. She has experience in all aspects of behavioral health including community-based and acute psychiatric, crisis intervention along with all levels of substance abuse services. She has served on the board of the Illinois Association of Behavioral Health since 2007. She currently serves as Vice President of Strategy and Public Policy for Chestnut Health Systems. Joan works to create partnerships with local, regional, and national collaborators. She holds a master’s of education degree in Counseling Psychology from the University of Louisville and a bachelor’s degree in Alcohol and Drug Studies from the University of South Dakota. Joan has been in active recovery from substance use disorders since 1983. She has been married since 1989 and has three children and one adorable grandchild. She is active in her church and relies on her spiritual sisters for ongoing support and accountability.