Our New Year’s Resolution: Addressing Stigma

Dr. Theresa Tam, the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, has just released a report summarizing the state of public healthcare in Canada. The 2019 report lists stigma as the major public health concern impacting the health and wellbeing of all Canadians.

Stigma is a negative stereotype or a “labelling of differences” that begins to separate people into categories of “us” and “them”. Stigma acts as a barrier, influencing an individual’s willingness to seek help, their access to services, and the quality of care that they receive. As we move into a new decade we’re very pleased to see that Canada is placing a strong focus on addressing stigma at an individual level, an institutional level, a community level, and at a national level.

In our field, we know only too well the impact that stigma can have on the health of Canadians. Individuals with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and their caregivers experience stigma on a daily basis. Despite the fact that FASD affects approximately 4% of Canadians (more than cerebral palsy, autism, and Down syndrome combined), the disorder is not well understood by the majority of our population. As a result, the challenges individuals with FASD face with emotional regulation and social interaction are often seen as “bad behaviour” and “poor life choices” by our society. This stigma impacts every aspect of their lives, from employment and education to involvement with the justice system and everything in between. Additionally, mental health issues and substance use disorders frequently co-occur with FASD. As a result, individuals with FASD face stigma in a number of different forms.

We’ve developed online training courses for community members and frontline workers to help them better understand FASD and give them tools to improve service provision for individuals with FASD. This is just one of the ways we are working to overcome stigma at an individual, institution, community, and national level. (Read more…)