What It’s Like to Deal with Layers of Stigma

February 10, 2020 Laura A. Barton

Many know the difficulty of dealing with mental health stigma, but there are also situations where a person might end up facing layers of stigma. This changes what it's like to deal with mental health stigma overall.

What Does It Mean to Have Layers of Stigma?

When I say "layers of stigma," I don't mean dealing with various mental health issues and facing each of the stigmas that come from them. Instead, I mean when you're dealing with more than one type of stigma for a single condition or even a non-mental health-related stigma on top of the stigma faced because of mental illness.

I know that probably sounds a bit confusing, so I'll give examples. The first is a situation where someone has a mental illness while also being homeless. Not only is there mental health stigma to consider, but also the stigma of being homeless. Here we can see how a person would be dealing with mental health stigma as well as a non-mental health-related stigma, and they can even compound one another and make stigma toward the person even stronger.

Another example is something I've dealt with personally where it's various layers of mental health stigma on top of each other. Living with excoriation (skin-picking) disorder, I have many scars and can at any given time have a number of wounds on my skin. My first layer of mental health stigma comes from dealing with people not believing my disorder is real, that I should be able to stop at any time, and that it's just a bad habit. The additional layer of mental health stigma I deal with because of the appearance of my skin is the stigma that comes with drug addiction stigma, even though my disorder has nothing to do with drug use.

How Multiple Layers of Stigma Can Make Combatting Mental Health Stigma Difficult

In these instances and others like them, layers of stigma double the effort when combatting mental health stigma, which makes things difficult. My personal example of skin-picking disorder looks something like this.

There are times when I have to start by explaining that my marks aren't symptoms of drug use. After that, I have to go into explaining how this isn't something I can just stop, nor is it a bad habit that's easily breakable.

The thing I've noticed with battling my layers of stigma is there's a fine balance of clearing up that my disorder isn't related to drug use while also not admonishing addiction. Sometimes I feel that by so steadfastly insisting that I'm not dealing with addiction or even self-harm, that it comes across as "No, it's not those things." That's not the message I want to give at all, so it becomes a matter of also making sure that I'm combatting those stigmas as well.

Stigma Is Stigma, Even If There Are Layers

I'm not looking to say that facing multiple layers of stigma is worse than dealing with only a single layer of stigma. Stigma is stigma, regardless of how many layers. What I'm hoping to show is what it's like to deal with layers of stigma. I want to show stigma is something more complicated than we expect, which can create different levels of difficulty when combatting it. The better we can understand how stigma affects each of us, the better we can become at taking it on.

APA Reference
Barton, L. (2020, February 10). What It’s Like to Deal with Layers of Stigma, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Laura A. Barton

Laura A. Barton is a fiction and non-fiction writer from Ontario, Canada. Find her on Twitter, FacebookInstagram, and Goodreads.

Lizanne Corbit
February, 10 2020 at 7:02 pm

This is beautifully expressed: "I want to show stigma is something more complicated than we expect, which can create different levels of difficulty when combatting it." I think this is such a valid point. So often we don't think of certain things as even carrying a stigma, let alone multiple or layered stigmas, but as you shared in the examples given this is very much the case. Stigma can take on many different forms and it's important for us to continue holding space for and urging on the conversation so that we can, in turn, create more clarity and understanding. Great read.

February, 12 2020 at 8:18 am

Hello Lizanne! It’s great to hear from you again and I’m glad you enjoyed this blog. :) Thank you as always for your support.

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