Discussant for: “On Stigma and its Public Health Implications” by Bruce G. Link
Laraine M. Glidden
This response to Dr. Link’s paper focuses on the stigma of mental retardation (MR). The condition of mental retardation fits the four components of stigma described by Dr. Link: Individuals differ in their intelligence, and low intelligence — one of the defining attributes of MR — is considered to be a negative characteristic. Moreover, other negative attributes, e.g., criminality, are often assigned to individuals with low intelligence. Individuals with MR are also devalued and dehumanized, and frequently thought of as possessing no qualities other than their mental retardation.
One result of stigma is that stigmatized persons may try to hide the stigmatizing condition. For example, there is cosmetic surgery for persons with Down syndrome to make them appear less “Down-looking.” Other examples come from the research of Edgerton and colleagues, when persons with mental retardation leave institutional settings to live in their community. Many of these individuals adopt strategies that help them “pretend” that they are not retarded. Because many individuals with mental retardation have only mild mental retardation, they may be able to “pass” without too much difficulty.
Finally, Dr. Link’s paper focuses exclusively on the negative aspects of stigma. An alternative model is that separating individuals by intelligence can result in positive discrimination for those of low intelligence. This alternative is discussed.