An unlikely hero? Challenging stigma through community engagement.

According to Goffman, stigma extensively discredits a person, reducing them “from a whole and usual person to a tainted, discounted one” (p. 3). The current paper shows how an innovative partnership model to employing excluded and vulnerable populations has not only provided hope and purpose for participants but has, through the resulting social enterprise, challenged stigma and exclusion. One particular incident is described as part of a broader process of challenging exclusion and stigmatisation, in this preliminary analysis of a recovery project that attempts reintegration through community improvement.

There is considerable evidence that stigma is a major problem for alcohol and other drug users and their families, with the World Health Organisation (2001) reporting that illicit drug use is the most stigmatised health condition in the world with alcohol dependence as the fourth most stigmatised. The UK Drug Policy Commission (2010) define stigma as “an indelible mark or a stain, and the term is generally applied to an attribute that makes a person unacceptable in other people’s eyes” (p. 1). The UKDPC goes on to suggest that stigma goes beyond stereotyping in that it often leads to prejudice and active discrimination. In a recent study on public attitudes to stigmatised behaviours, Phillips and Shaw (2013) not only demonstrated that substance misuse was more stigmatising than either obesity or smoking, but also that the general public have limited faith in recovery or desistance. Thus, participants retained a preference for social distance even towards those substance users who were described as being in recovery.

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