Stigma Cuts Deep: A Frontline Perspective

March 13, 2019

Regarding the recent media discourses around Ministry funding cuts within social services (for example this story published today in the Brantford Expositor), it is very important to be critical in the messages we receive, and to consider how these messages can cause harm by contributing to stigma and the marginalization of groups of people.  

With inadequate resources across sectors, a picture is often painted that when one area or service receives increased support, it means taking away support from other areas or services. This framing is firstly overly simplistic, but beyond that, these messages can create challenges in service providers ability to work together across sectors, as well as and reinforcing negative public opinion of both those who need to access services, and of those whom provide those services.

It is crucial that when we are presented with messages intended to justify the reallocating of resources, we begin to deconstruct narratives which would have us place blame on already stigmatized communities of people. Importantly, we must also understand that people who use drugs are not inherently inadequate or bad parents, and people. We should instead continue to question and challenge larger systemic issues, which maintain and perpetuate the oppression and stigma that continues to fuel the opioid crisis.We should acknowledge the ways in which issues of poverty, of violence and trauma, of homelessness, of problematic substance use, intersect.

We should work to shift these discourses from one of individual behaviour and choice, to that of the overrepresentation of children and families involved in child welfare services and a lack of adequate support, funding, resources across all sectors.Language is an important tool and holds great power. Because of this, we must be thoughtful in the language that we choose to use and understand the impacts that this has.

Specifically, how language works to reinforce stigma, and how this stigma reinforces oppression and bias. We encourage people to be critical, to ask questions, and for a growing understanding of experiences, which may be outside of our own.Allie Torrance is The AIDS Network’s Regional Harm Reduction Worker working in the Haldimand, Norfolk and Brant regions of our catchement area.