‘ IT ’ S UP TO US !’
Stigma may feel like a brick wall but we can work together to dismantle it , heard the NHS APA annual conference . DDN reports
Opening a conference about stigma , Roy Lilley began with a personal story . His dad was ‘ born illegitimate ’ as it was regarded back then . The status thwarted his chance to go to the Royal School of Music at the form-filling stage . He came back from WWII with shell shock and went to a mental health hospital where they gave him electric shock therapy . Later , struggling to make a living in postwar austerity Britain , he couldn ’ t get a job in the grocery trade where he ’ d started , as he ’ d been in a mental institution .
‘ That ’ s a story about stigma ,’ said Lilley . ‘ It happened a long time ago , but it has relevance . Stigma changes people ’ s lives .’ Whatever the context – and ‘ it doesn ’ t matter if they ’ re
’ s attitude towards people who use drugs , and people in addiction and recovery , hasn ’ t significantly changed over time and we continually see examples of stigmatising language , depictions and policies across our media , health and social care and policy domains ,’ said Phoenix chief executive Karen Biggs , as she announced a new Anti- Stigma Network alongside Danny Hames of NHS APA . The network will be formally launched in early 2023 .
‘ If we are to make real progress in helping people whose lives are devastated by addiction we need our governments , our media , our public servants and those in positions of influence to understand
unfortunate enough to be dependent on a drug ’ – it was still stigma , and as prevalent now ( he gave Twitter as an example ) as when it impacted his father ’ s life in the 1920s .
Thinking about three categories of stigma could help to tackle it , he said . Self-stigma was about internalising feelings of shame and lack of self-belief ; social stigma involved taking on negative attitudes towards yourself and your family members , while structural stigma was built into the system .
So what could we do about any of this ? ‘ It ’ s up to us – up to people like you who work in the sector ,’ said Lilley . He offered a phrase from his earlier writing about stigma : ‘ Stigma is a burden borne by people with quite enough of a burden already . It ’ s our job to lighten their load .’
A good approach started with curiousness . ‘ When you think you ’ re doing a good job , how do you know someone isn ’ t doing it better ? You don ’ t know .’ This approach led him to set up the Academy of Fabulous Stuff to share best practice , and he urged people to ‘ pinch it with pride ’. He believed that we wouldn ’ t improve health services by league tables , inspections and embarrassing people . ‘ The only way to improve our services is by being curious , by opening our minds ,’ he said . ‘ Our minds are the parachutes – they ’ re better when they ’ re open .’
The next important factor was to improve skilfulness by training , aiming to ‘ improve everyone ’ s skills base by one notch ’. He appealed to budget holders to give time to
stigma , how it is created and the pernicious effect it has on so many people ’ s lives ,’ she said . ‘ We need to all act against stigma and ensure our work doesn ’ t inadvertently or purposefully perpetuate it .’
DDN is proud to be involved the Anti-Stigma Network – look out for our coverage in coming issues . Visit www . stigmakills . org . uk / for resources and personal stories . people to improve their skills base , something that could be done inhouse through dialogue , by talking to each other , if money for training was tight . We should aim to ‘ lighten the load by taking one brick at a time ’ and days like these [ the online conference ] were ‘ when people come together to lighten people ’ s load ’.
The other important strand was helpfulness , he said . ‘ Test everything you do – is this helpful ?’
So how do we get rid of stigma ? His response to this was that we don ’ t . Stigma was ‘ part of prejudice , part of life , the ugly bit of humanity ’. Rather , we needed ‘ to make people understand that no one sets out to take drugs and destroy their and their families ’ lives . We have to look beyond that ’ and attempt to understand it : ‘ If you were born when they were born , taught what they were taught , you would think like them .’
Everyone had a history , a back story , and were unlikely to have been born in a bundle of rags in a doorway , but ‘ most of us were lucky to take the right fork in the road ’. He gave the example of a sportsman – breaking a leg would result in plenty of support , but the complete opposite if they had a substance misuse problem .
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