When we think of stigma, we often think of awareness campaigns and personal disclosure of our struggles. On the face of it, these appear to be helpful in stigma reduction. However, as with all things like this, it is not nearly as simple as that. Autism has been the focus of many stigma reduction campaigns, but people are rarely Autistic as a standalone identity, and there are (more often than not) multiple marginalities within Autistic lives.
Autism is not the only sources of stigma in neurodivergent lives
When considering my own experience, one identity of mine that is particularly relevant to this conversation is Schizophrenia. Psychotic disorders have been positioned as the most “dangerous” of mental health concerns. People assume a poor prognosis with a high potential for violence.
Schizophrenia, in my opinion, is a good measure of saneism and ableism in society. Despite Schizophrenic people only having a modestly increased risk of violence, the media fails to report responsibly. Nuances such as the socioeconomic factors of violence in this population are rarely accounted for. In the same way, much of the stigma surrounding neurodivergence and other marginalised identities is driven by poor understanding of colonial oppression and sloppy reporting by journalists. When considering the sources of stigma in a person’s life, we have to consider intersectionality and minority stress.
Individualism and the stigma surrounding neurodivergence
When considering the role of individualism in the perpetuation of stigma surrounding neurodivergence, we have to first understand the role of psychiatry. The field of psychiatric medicine centres most neurodivergence ad “mental illness”. It places the issue within the body of an individual and requires them to “recover”. This individualisation is responsible not just for the coercion that occurs within the psychiatric profession. It is also responsible for the use of quack cures such as MMS and chelation “therapy” that do a great deal of harm.
The ableism and sanism that surround neurodivergence means that we are often coerced into harmful “treatment” or abused by those closest to us. We are dehumanised by stigma and forced to endure a world that views our existence as an abberation rather than a natural part of human diversity.
Why is it wrong to expect victims of stigma to tackle their own stigma?
When we consider marginalised groups, we have to consider that, for most of us, dismantling stigma is usually an expectation of free labour. Far too often, we are expected to expose the most vulnerable parts of ourselves to a world that, in most cases, will respond with vitriol. Raising awareness through vulnerability can be life threatening for many of us.
We also have to note the effect of privilege in stigma reduction efforts. White people such as myself are better able to expose the less acce0ted parts of themselves. If a BIPOC Autistic or Schizophrenic (considering my own neurodivergence) person were to lay bare their most hidden parts, their life could be endangered. For me, the stigma I face is dangerous, but not nearly as life-threatening as that of my further marginalised neurokin.
Marginalised people are left to raise awareness in a world that does not want to listen. It should not be us doing the work to dismantle stigma. Instead, those perpetuating it should be practising enough introspection to realise the conditioning that our neoliberalism world has used to dehumanised people such as myself. The expectation that we will do the work is fundamentally flawed in a world that does not care enough to practice insight.
Until such a time that wider society is ready and willing to see its own role in our oppression and marginalisation, we will continue to be mistreated. It should not be our job to tackle structural oppression while also trying to survive it. That is what most of us are pouring our energy into; survival.