Stigma, Communication, and Health

Authored by: Rachel A. Smith

The Routledge Handbook of Health Communication

Print publication date:  April  2011
Online publication date:  August  2011

Print ISBN: 9780415883146
eBook ISBN: 9780203846063
Adobe ISBN: 9781136931673


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Stigma processes are considered a leading barrier to health promotion, treatment, and social support for those facing health challenges (e.g., World Health Organization, 2001) and may well be the least understood (e.g., UNAIDS, 2004). Stigma has been linked to delays in seeking treatment, prolonged risk of transmission, poor treatment adherence, and increased risks of recurrence of health problems (e.g., Heijnders & Van der Meij, 2006) among other things. What is a stigma? It is a socialized, simplified, standardized image of the disgrace of a particular social group (Smith, 2007a). Thus, being marked as the member of a stigmatized group does more than designate someone as different (Thompson & Seibold, 1978); it denotes them as profoundly discredited, devalued, and disgraced (Goffman, 1963). The relationship between stigma, health, and communication is complex, dynamic, and multifaceted. This chapter discusses these relationships in four sections, describing toxic messages, communicative reactions, health consequences of stigma, and stigma-reduction interventions.

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