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Letters   |    
A Misused Term
Harold A. Maio
Psychiatric Services 2011; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.62.10.1233
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Mr. Maio, who lives in Ft. Myers, Florida, is a former editor of various mental health publications.

Copyright © 2011 by the American Psychiatric Association.

To the Editor: I would like to comment on language in the August column by Patrick Corrigan, “Best Practices: Strategic Stigma Change (SSC): Five Principles for Social Marketing Campaigns to Reduce Stigma” (1). In my view the author and the journal should avoid discussing efforts to “reduce stigma” and should instead focus on eliminating discrimination and prejudice.

According to Webster's dictionary, stigma is a mark of shame or discredit borne by a person—an identifying characteristic. However, when a person with mental illness experiences what Dr. Corrigan refers to as “stigma,” he or she is experiencing not something inherent to oneself or one's condition but prejudice and discrimination coming from others. It is counterproductive to talk about reducing stigma, since to do so reinforces prejudice and sets too limited a goal. Suggesting that “reducing” a prejudice is an acceptable goal would not impress those who have directly experienced direct and active prejudice.

We editors and professionals are often incautious in how we express ourselves.I am retired as an editor now but frequently call attention to language misuse in the media. Many individuals are offended by the abstraction “the mentally ill.” Newspapers and other periodicals routinely write of “the mentally ill,” as if this collective term correctly characterizes an individual. My concern is not that there are people who exercise prejudice, but how we address them and their prejudices precisely. My hope is that we not empower either.

Corrigan  PW:  Strategic stigma change (SSC): five principles for social marketing campaigns to reduce stigma.  Psychiatric Services 62:824–826, 2011
 
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Corrigan  PW:  Strategic stigma change (SSC): five principles for social marketing campaigns to reduce stigma.  Psychiatric Services 62:824–826, 2011
 
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