November 1st, 2013
The Oxford English Dictionary defines stigma as a ‘mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person’. Stigma is generally the result of ignorance, fear and misunderstanding. Sadly, many people living with hepatitis C say that they feel stigmatized by their condition. In the case of hep C, many people are unaware of how it is transmitted and may perceive the risks of transmission to be higher than they are. In addition, despite the many ways that hep C can be passed on, some people assume that all those with the virus are infected as a result of drug use.01
Stigma can damage your relationships with people around you, including your friends, family and work colleagues. For instance, worry over what others might say about you and your condition may lead to you avoiding family gatherings or other social events. Fear of being stigmatized by your doctors or other healthcare professionals may mean you don’t seek the treatments you need, ultimately leading to the disease progressing more rapidly.
When you receive a hepatitis C diagnosis, you may feel compelled to hide your condition for fear of what other people might think or how they will react. It’s a sad fact that many people shut themselves away from friends and family at a time when they most need their support.
Speaking to others with the condition can be an important first step in dealing with stigma. You can do this by joining a local hepatitis C support group and finding out as much as you can about the disease and its true effects on people.
Remember, one of the most powerful tools for dealing with stigma is accurate information. Just as stigma results largely from stereotypes and misconceptions, educating less informed people about the realities of the disease can go a long way towards changing their perceptions. Information will also allow you to ease the concerns of loved ones when you first tell them about your condition.
Some of the most compelling messages you can use include the fact that hepatitis C is a manageable condition, that symptoms are often minor and that, apart from situations where there is a risk of contact with infected blood, the virus is very difficult to transmit to those around you.
Click here for details of local support groups and organizations.