Blog #3. Goffman: Mental Illness and Stigma

Following our discussion about Goffman and Stigma, I am led to search for contemporary examples in the media that may help to tie everything together. With Goffman’s micro levvel thoery of symbolic interactionism, we are led to understand that human actions are in accordance with shared meanings, orientation and assumptions. As defined by Goffman, Stigma is a process by which the reaction of others “spoils” normal identity. With Stigma comes a label. With Goffman’s labeling theory he relates the public label that is created with the stigma to the persons public identity. This label becomes the persons master status: a status that assumes priority and overrides any other status consideration. The stigma and label causes others to alter their estimation of them downward, reducing societies valuation of the individual (stigma symbol).

In the video linked above is the trailer to a new tv series on ABC called Black Box. This show gives us some perspective about Goffman’s Theory of Mental Illness. (Not to spoil anything for you, but I would definitely recommend the show… its a hybrid between Grey’s Anatomy and HawthoRNe). In the show, Dr. Black is a world renowned neuroscientist, she has also been diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. In an attempt to keep her credibility as an academic, research and clinician, the only person that knows about the true extent of her disorder is her Psychiatrist. As a practicing clinician, she also battles with frequent manic episodes which include heightened sexual appetites and reckless endangerment and refusing to take her medication. With frequent changes in her mood and trying to keep her image in tact as to not jeopardize her job and relationships, Dr. Black is forced to share information about her condition with a few people in order to cope with her symptoms. With the fear of her condition being revealed and being labeled “crazy”, “psycho” or anything of the sort, only 3 episodes in, we see just how important it is, when battling with a mental illness to share your story with loved ones and not suffer in silence.
What we often observe is that people who are fearful of being labeled and stigmatized battle with their illness in silence, however sharing stores about stigmatized illnesses such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or the like, is important in order to strike up discourse that can work to dismantle the hurtful labels that can interfere with the ability to cope and live a fulfilled life.


One response to “Blog #3. Goffman: Mental Illness and Stigma

  1. When I first saw this show I didn’t really make a connection to Goffman, thank you so much for putting it in that perspective, it made me want to watch it.

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