What is stigma?

Stigma is complex. Researchers, organizations, communities, and individuals all have different definitions and perspectives when it comes to stigma. One way to picture stigma is to look at the different ways it happens.

Four blue oval shapes in reducing size are stacked such that they are all lined up at the very bottom point. The shade of blue gets increasingly darker from the largest to the smallest oval. Each oval has a text label in the exposed portion of its surface. From largest to smallest, the labels are: Structural, Community, External, and Internal.

Structural stigma is the negative attitudes, beliefs, and practices that happens in systems (medical, educational, employment, etc.) that cause people to feel stigma.

Community sigma is the negative attitudes, beliefs, and practices that happens to people in their own communities.

External stigma is the negative attitudes, beliefs, and practices that are directed toward us by others.

Internalized stigma is what happens when we start to believe the negative attitudes, beliefs, and practices and it becomes part of how we see ourselves.

What is the impact of stigma?

Stigma hurts us all. It creates fear and anger and makes it more difficult to focus on the actual problem. Stigma can make people more likely to hide symptoms or illness, keep them from seeking health care immediately, and prevent individuals from adopting healthy behaviors. Stigma negatively affects the emotional, mental, and physical health of stigmatized groups and the communities they live in.

Stopping stigma is important to making all communities and community members safer and healthier and we can all play a part.

What is the difference between stigma and discrimination?

Groups who experience stigma may also experience discrimination. This discrimination can take the form of:

What can we do to help prevent stigma?

Individuals can

Communities can

Public health officials can

How does stigma impact specific diseases or conditions?