David Mandel
David Mandel
Chief Executive Officer, OHEL Children's Home and Family Services

The Power to Destigmatize

Stigma can be portrayed in many forms overtly or subtly. At times it can be mean as in schoolyard bullying, chiding a child as fatty or shorty.

I’ve learned from people who are overweight or bald how they truly don’t appreciate comments on weight or hairline. For many who are overweight, they describe it as a lifelong battle. And for the balding person, there isn’t a ‘good hair day.’

Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey has had a bad run lately.

Aspiring Presidential candidate, jockeying to be Trump’s VP, then pining for a Trump Administration Cabinet post, continually plagued by Bridgegate, Christie’s face in the news is oftentimes strained.

So it was especially unkind (harsher terms available) to see a NYT article on Christie’s painful courtship of President Trump depicted in ‘fat’ terminology. The Governor’s bout with weight is well known and was readily visible throughout his campaign.

The story-line was political.

The sub text, non-too subtle, was weight. It deliberately became the headline.

Twelve times in a story on Christie’s continued courtship of a job in the White House, weight was mentioned. Never spoken was Christie’s actual weight challenge it was all about the lunch he shared with the President.

A meatloaf lunch, on the menu, a meal, thoroughly chewed, order, have meatloaf, eat whatever was put in front of him, weight lifted from him, before lunch, a social lunch, next lunch, on the menu.

Twelve separate times.

With a photo in the article of Christie’s jacket open showing his girth looking a bit forlorn what was the intent here? Inform the reader of a potential reprieve from political isolation, a true shot at a coveted spot in Washington or was it merely a friendly lunch with the President. Not just lunch but lunch lunch lunch. Describing the Governor’s political maneuvering or highlighting his battle with weight.

Stigma, a pin prick that let’s you dangle ever so slowly.

Stigma, blatant name calling pushing the person back ‘into’ the closet.

Stigma, demeaning a person without the use of an adjective.

Stigma, believing you are innocent of any shaming out of ignorance or disregard for others feelings.

43 million Americans, one in five, may suffer from some form of mental illness.

That could be a person in our office, a teammate, an old friend from school, a family member. Each and every one of these people contend daily with their struggle to live a better life.

That challenge may be height, weight, mental illness, social isolation, inferior intelligence, the list is long.

What such individuals need most is our showing a little more love fewer spoken words. Stigma is that invisible additive to a person’s mental illness inhibiting their ability to be at ease with themselves, let alone their surroundings. We need a big pause button as we’re about to use terminology that may depict a person as less than he is even inadvertently.

Surely none of us would do this maliciously.

De-stigmatizing a person can be as powerfully effective as that person’s medication.

Knowing that people respect his or her disability will give strength to those 43 million Americans.

Reducing stigma is a battle of words easily won. Ultimately it is a remedy each of us can control.

We all have the power to de-stigmatize.

About the Author
David Mandel is CEO of Ohel Children's Home and Family Services. For more than 50 years, Ohel has provided a safe haven for those suffering in the community. Ohel cares for more than 17,000 individuals in the New York metropolitan area and across all communities offering a broad range of mental health services including outpatient counseling, trauma, anxiety, eldercare, respite and housing.