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Challenging Stigma in Inverclyde - A Reflection

CVS Inverclyde’s Resilience Network hosted the online event “Challenge Stigma” last week to great success. With funding from Inverclyde HSCP Public Mental Health Remobilisation Fund, this event explored stigma in Inverclyde, its impact on different groups in our community, and what we can do to address its harmful effects. The event brought together a wide range of partners from Inverclyde’s third and public sector, and members of the community, many of whom with lived experience of stigma.

The event began with a passionate address from Inverclyde Council’s CEO Lousie Long, who noted: “I have been clear in relation to Inverclyde, that the challenges don’t define us, they propel us forward instead…It takes a whole community to address stigma – it takes every person, assuring everyone has a voice.”

This certainly became the theme of the day, with excellent participation and powerful contributions from members of the community with lived experience of stigma; their views on the problems they continue to face; and suggestions of ways to progress beyond stigma into a society which embraces everyone, seeks to understand rather than condemn, and searches for the whole person behind a single, (generally) negative label.

Dr Katy Proctor, lecturer in Criminology and Criminal Justice at Glasgow Caledonian University, spoke further about labels, noting that it is the people in positions of power and privilege – those in possession of positive labels – that get to create labels for others. She noted that this is an “enormous amount of power to have”, and that the more negative a label is given to a person, the less power, choice, and control they then have in their lives, which in turn becomes a reinforcing cycle where people become what they have been labelled. Inequality is maintained indefinitely in this way unless we address the social harm that stigma, and stigmatising labels, creates.

The next section of the day was an interactive session titled “Oor Bairns”, where participants identified the potential difficulties children would face as a result of stigma related to their family and personal lives, as well as making suggestions of ways to mitigate the harm this stigma will cause. The feedback and discussion were lively and shone a light on the whole-life impact stigma can have, and the ways in which it can form a reinforcing “vicious circle” of harm that is felt across generations.

As a follow up to this activity, three short films were shown. These films were produced by CVS Inverclyde in partnership with local filmmakers Tall Tale Films and sought to gain insight into the lived experience of local people with various forms of stigma. Two of the brave participants have a history of drug addiction and/or homelessness, and one is a New Scot, having come into Scotland as a result of war elsewhere in the world. Participants agreed that these films went straight to the heart of the issues being discussed, with many left in awe of the power of listening to people with lived experience.

Ultimately, this is where the event found its real impact, with an afternoon of hard-hitting discussion, much of which became led by members of the community actively in recovery from addiction, or feeling the effects of other stigma in their own experiences.

Vicki Cloney, Partnership Facilitator at CVS Inverclyde, and one of the event’s main organisers, said, “We are aware of the problems stigma is creating and perpetuating in Inverclyde and more widely in Scotland. It is so important to challenge stigma – today is just the beginning of our response to this. Hearing from members of the community was very powerful, moving the discussions to a completely different level where the effects of stigma are clear and much easier to understand. It is in this way that our response must move forward: with as much engagement from the people being labelled negatively and living at the mercy of those labels as possible, placed at the centre of the discussion and given the loudest voices.”

“We want to express our huge gratitude to everyone in the community who participated, along with local third sector organisations and Inverclyde HSCP, who worked so hard to make this event possible. Collaboration is what made today possible, and it this collaboration which must continue, in order to make an impact on challenging stigma as we move forward and gain momentum with this campaign.”

A quote from former US Senator, Barbara Mikluski was offered to close the event: “Each one of us can make a difference. Together we make change.” CVS Inverclyde are keen to make it clear that the Challenge Stigma Event is just the opening item in a wider campaign, that this marks the beginning of the conversation, and that today is the first step in a journey towards challenging stigma as a standard practice in Inverclyde, to move towards a fairer, more inclusive, stronger and more successful community.

The Resilience Network is hosted by CVS Inverclyde and developed in partnership with Inverclyde HSCP and other local partners to help the people of Inverclyde build resilience and foster hope. For the past 2 years this network has offered a space for collaboration, knowledge exchange and partnership working to collectively support resilience in our community.

The short films will be available to view on CVS Inverclyde’s YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCw5bp7reDrBDQZUmgXhU-HA

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