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What is Stigma?

Men living with HIV are often affected by stigma, as can people living with a mental health condition, like depression or anxiety.

Stigma is a system of social stereotyping, which makes people feel like they’re set apart or different, making them feel exposed or ashamed. It’s a negative cycle which then leads them to attempt to hide the condition that brought the stigma, leading other people to believe that the condition needs to be hidden or is shameful.

Basically, stigma doesn’t just damage individuals, it’s bad for all of us.

But it’s not easy to stamp out.

Coping with stigma is complicated, and can mean having some tough conversations with the people you’re closest to. Sometimes people can hold views that they’ve grown up with and never had a reason to examine before. Stigma can pop up in surprising places too. You might have a mate who’s supportive of your HIV status and is fully there for you, but who finds it hard to make the connection between your wellness and your mental health.

Just like you’d like support for the stigma you might be facing, you can also help people to deal with their own stigma- it can be that straightforward!

Take some simple steps:

Support your mates and make sure they know that they can talk to you about anything (but if things get too heavy, encourage them to give the beyondblue Support Service a bell on 1300 22 4636).

Speak up in group situations- it’s not easy to go against the grain but you could be changing things for someone else in your group who’s having a tough time. Let people know that jokes or comments made at the expense of a group or a person aren’t cool.

Make sure that you’re minimising discrimination and stigma in your own life. Think about decisions that you make and what influences these. Examining why you think about issues the way you do is a really great way to figure out what influences your thinking and what bias you might have.

If you’re ready to, being open about your own experiences with HIV and mental health condition can be really huge. Letting people know that these things don’t just happen to people they read about in the paper but to people that they know personally can be incredibly powerful in terms of challenging their perspective.

Stigma has a real impact on our community. You can learn more about it over at beyondblue. If you, or someone you know needs support urgently, call the beyondblue Support Service 1300 22 4636.