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Understanding Stigma

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Updated April 02, 2009

Stigma is an ugly word with an even worse meaning. To those who have viral hepatitis, it can mean discrimination, emotional exile and feelings of shame. While this unfair stigma is most often felt by people with hepatitis C, nearly everyone will experience it in some way and at some point in their illness. This article identifies some common reasons for stigma and offers simple, but effective, solutions for putting stigma behind you and living your life to the fullest.

Fear

Many people know that hepatitis can be a serious disease with frightening complications like cirrhosis and cancer. Perhaps they know someone with the disease and have seen what it can do first-hand. Maybe they have heard stories about someone catching hepatitis and think they could get sick, too. Those with more understanding of how people really develop hepatitis see this as silly, but it is important to realize that people who unfairly label someone with hepatitis are mostly worried about their health.

How can you help people not to fear? Learn about your type of hepatitis and find out how to prevent its spread. If anyone appears to be concerned about your disease, explain how it is and is not spread.

Different Types of Hepatitis
Five Types of Viral Hepatitis

Superiority

Some people think that hepatitis sufferers did something wrong to get their disease. This type of stigma assumes that everyone with hepatitis does intravenous drugs or drinks too much alcohol. This type of stigma is especially troubling because it shows a lack of compassion and labels people with yet another stigma, one that is traditionally seen as a vice.

What's the best way to deal with this type of stigma? Seek out support groups and surround yourself with people who understand the many forms and causes of hepatitis and will not judge you because of a disease. Support groups provide a safe way to learn about hepatitis and how it affects other people. In the process of sharing aspects of your life with others, you strengthen your social network which is a key ingredient in a healthful lifestyle.

Ignorance

Most reasons for stigma can be traced back to ignorance, which is a lack of correct understanding. It is important to emphasize correct because some people think they have good information, but really they are just spreading myths. For example, many people believe that intravenous drug use and tattoos cause hepatitis. Others may associate HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, with hepatitis and believe that everyone is co-infected. Of course, these ideas are false and do great harm to everyone with hepatitis.

Seven Common Myths about Hepatitis
Ten Ways You Can't Get Hepatitis (But Some People Think You Can!)

How do you combat ignorance? Knowledge is the only way to decrease ignorance. Take every opportunity to help people understand hepatitis and how it can be prevented. Many organizations provide fact sheets and training materials free of charge as a public service to help educate people about this disease.

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