Skip to content

What is Stigma?


Stigma is a multifaceted social phenomenon that refers to the prejudice, discrimination, or negative attitudes associated with a particular characteristic or attribute that is considered to deviate from societal norms or expectations.

Understanding Stigma

In its simplest form, stigma occurs when an individual is devalued or discredited due to a particular attribute, such as a mental or physical disability, an illness, a social status, or a personal trait. This attribute, or 'mark', sets the individual apart from others and results in them being treated differently or unfavorably.

Types of Stigma

Stigma can be broadly categorized into three types: social, self, and structural stigma.

Social Stigma

Social stigma, also known as public stigma, is characterized by prejudiced attitudes or discriminatory behaviors directed towards individuals with stigmatizing attributes by the broader society. For instance, an individual with a mental illness may be socially excluded or mocked due to misconceptions about their condition.


Self-stigma, or internalized stigma, occurs when individuals with stigmatized attributes internalize the negative attitudes and beliefs held by society and start to apply them to themselves. This can lead to feelings of shame, low self-esteem, and reduced self-efficacy.

Structural Stigma

Structural stigma refers to the institutional policies or societal norms that restrict the opportunities, resources, and wellbeing of people with stigmatized attributes. An example of structural stigma would be a company policy that indirectly discriminates against people with certain health conditions.

Causes of Stigma

Stigma often arises from fear, misunderstanding, or ignorance about the stigmatized attribute. It is reinforced by stereotypes and myths that circulate within society, which can lead to the dehumanization and objectification of people with these attributes.

Consequences of Stigma

The consequences of stigma are far-reaching and can significantly impact an individual's psychological, social, and physical health. These impacts can range from decreased self-esteem and self-efficacy to increased stress, anxiety, depression, and social isolation. Furthermore, stigma can prevent individuals from accessing needed services or support, such as healthcare or employment, further exacerbating health disparities and socioeconomic inequalities.

Combatting Stigma

Combatting stigma requires concerted efforts at individual, community, and societal levels. This involves promoting awareness and understanding of stigmatized attributes, challenging stereotypes and misconceptions, and advocating for policy changes to eliminate structural stigma. Education, open dialogue, empathy, and inclusivity are all key tools in the fight against stigma.

In conclusion, stigma is a complex and damaging social phenomenon that perpetuates inequality and discrimination. By understanding its various forms, causes, and impacts, we can better equip ourselves to challenge and overcome stigma, fostering a more inclusive and empathetic society.