DDN September 2023 DDN September_2023_v2 | Page 6


Many roads

The 15th DDN Conference

‘ I t ’ s no longer socially acceptable to stigmatise people with mental health conditions or people who ’ ve experienced domestic violence ,’ said chief executive of Phoenix Futures and co-chair of the Anti-Stigma Network , Karen Biggs . Attitudes to people who used drugs , however , hadn ’ t changed .

There were constant examples of overtly stigmatising language across the media , health and social care , and policy domains – most of which went unchallenged , she stated . ‘ If we ’ re to make real progress in helping people whose lives are impacted by addiction , we need our governments , our media and our public servants to understand stigma , how it ’ s created , and the pernicious effect it has on so many people ’ s lives .’
The 15th DDN conference , Many Roads , kicked off with a powerful session exploring how we can all challenge stigma . Additional photography throughout by nigelbrunsdon . com
It was a process that would take time and commitment . ‘ We all need to act against stigma and ensure that our work doesn ’ t inadvertently or purposefully perpetuate it .’ Establishing the Anti-Stigma Network had involved talking to people with direct experience of stigma , service providers , academics and others . ‘ Our mission is to end stigma ,’ she stated – ‘ some people say that can ’ t be done , but our view is that our ambition can ’ t be anything else but to end the discrimination that limits the opportunity to thrive in life , that creates inequality , and takes away people ’ s basic human rights . We ’ ll do it by collaboration and coproduction – we won ’ t always be right , we ’ ll make mistakes , and we hope to be able to learn together .’ The approach was rooted in lived experience , and the stories on the network ’ s website were about people , she stressed – ‘ drugs and alcohol are a feature , but they ’ re not the story .’ Instead they were about lives , experiences , journeys and barriers faced . ‘ We believe this is a powerful way to educate people about what stigma is . It ’ s the shaming , the prejudice , the discrimination people face in accessing health , housing and employment , and it ’ s the policies and procedures that make it difficult for people to create the life they want .’
WHY THIS , WHY US , WHY NOW ? In establishing the network she ’ d frequently been asked , ‘ what makes you think this will make a difference ?’ she said . ‘ The question for me is bigger than that – it ’ s why this , why us and why now ?’
It should have been done ‘ a long time ago ’, she stated . ‘ Maybe
we wouldn ’ t be in the situation we are now , with the highest ever number of people dying from a preventable condition .’ In some parts of the UK , even with the new drug strategy , this showed no signs of improving . ‘ But we know more now about what approaches work . The next level of progress will be when we create something bigger together than we can do on our own . We ’ ll learn how to do this as we go , and we ’ re a broad church – with different life experiences and values .’
The network ’ s starting point for naming , understanding and calling out stigma was the health and social care sector , she said – including drug and alcohol treatment . ‘ We all have examples of how services and pathways stigmatise people .’ Alongside structural stigma , this was also down to individual assumptions