There’s a lot of buzz surrounding Stigma-Free Zones, but what are they really? And how can you become part of the movement?
It’s difficult to ignore certain ongoing cultural narratives that are problematic at best and harmful at worst. They isolate and divide us as communities, and as individuals. Our goal is to create tolerant, compassionate, and inclusive spaces that help facilitate a more positive and proactive narrative surrounding stigma.
Dave Richardson, Co-founder of the Stigma-Free Zone movement, notes that living stigma-free is a journey; it doesn’t happen all at once. Becoming a designated Stigma Free Zone, whether you represent a school, organization, riding, or geographical area is a process.
So what does this process look like?
The first step is to educate ourselves, and develop awareness of the judgments (both conscious and unconscious) that we all make in a hundred different ways every day. Our assumptions inform our perceptions and define not just how we see ourselves, but how we understand and relate to others. One way we can challenge these biases is by sharing our personal stories with one another.
To become a designated Stigma-Free Zone, we encourage you to bring in a professional presenter to your school, business, or organization. An important component of these presentations is educating people about the trauma caused by bullying and stigmatizing language and behaviors. Our presenters, including co-founder Andrea Paquette, have overcome incredible challenges with respect to their mental health, and are able to speak with compelling authenticity about their experiences.
Becoming a Stigma-Free Zone means making a commitment to creating a safe, welcoming environment based on principles of tolerance and acceptance, without fear of ridicule, harassment, and bullying. Currently, we are working with a broad range of community leaders, including representatives from businesses and organizations, school staff and students, and MLAs in provincial ridings.
In addition to presentations, we provide resources for creating a Stigma-Free environment, including helping you complete a Stigma-Free Pledge and preparing posters with calls to action to help you live free of stigma. Schools, for example, receive a full toolkit and designation, and a Champion from that institution is then chosen to work alongside our Stigma-Free Zone Task Force to continue creating meaningful activities within the organization.
Regardless of your background or circumstances, everyone struggles and everyone has a story. Stories are a universal language that unite us as parts of a shared human narrative, and they are what brings us together in compassion.
Finally, living a stigma-free life isn’t just about learning tolerance for others. It’s also about self-empathy and releasing ourselves from the burden of judgment and internalized shame that we carry with us in our daily lives, and learning to live a life defined by authenticity, joy, and self-acceptance.
Are you ready to live stigma-free? Start changing the conversation today?
Contact us today and let’s cultivate a Stigma-Free culture in your school, business/organization and/or geographical area!
Thank you and together we can stop stigma!
Co-authored by Jenn Mclean and Robyn Thomas