Stigma and intolerance threaten Decatur's future
In Decatur, stigmatization of those living with mental illness, those suffering from addiction, and those experiencing homelessness continues. Stigma is often justified in the name of public safety, but instead, it corrodes our community and threatens the city’s long-term vitality.
STIGMATIZATION OF MENTAL ILLNESS AND SUBSTANCE USE
At a time when our nation and city face a mental health crisis, entities continue to stigmatize those living with addiction and mental illness. Narcan is a proven life saver. However, public perception of the need for access can be misunderstood. Simply put, decreased access to Narcan will lead to more lives lost to addiction. If we want to improve public safety, we must make sure that Narcan is accessible to those most in need when they need it.
Recently, a radio commentator expressed concerns for how a naked woman who bathes in the fountain in Central Park may result in a feeling of uneasiness among other parkgoers and a lack of safety. Notwithstanding the fact that being in the fountain, whether clothed or unclothed, is unlawful, it is the woman who is most vulnerable to harm. The Macon County Continuum of Care funds a Community Resources Coordinator for people downtown in need of assistance. Hopefully, individuals who witnessed the situation contacted the coordinator so that aid could be rendered.
At the 2021 National Conference for Mental Health in Italy, Pope Francis called for “fully overcom[ing] the stigma with which mental illness has often been branded.” “Caring for others is not just a skilled job, but a real mission, which is fully realized when scientific knowledge meets the fullness of humanity and is translated into the tenderness that knows how to approach and take others to heart.” (https://aleteia.org/2021/06/28/pope-calls-for-overcoming-stigma-of-mental-illness/)
STIGMATIZATION OF HOMELESSNESS
Last year, the city council voted to close Central Park after midnight. Those without shelter could now be charged with criminal trespass after 12 AM. Meanwhile, those who paid to use the Transfer House in the park could drink champagne well past the midnight hour. The fact is that those who experience homelessness are more likely to be the victims of crime not the perpetrators of crime. Yet, the city chose to criminalize unsheltered individuals in the name of public safety.
CONTINUED STIGMA OF MARGINALIZED GROUPS WILL ACCELERATE DECATUR’S DECLINE
I thank the many organizations and individuals who work tirelessly to end stigma. Almost everyone has a family member, friend, or neighbor that has or is currently suffering from mental illness or substance use. It touches nearly everyone. Entities that perpetuate stigma of those suffering from addiction, experiencing homelessness, or living with mental illness, create a barrier to access to care thereby threatening public safety.
Decatur can become a model city for individuals of diverse backgrounds and experiences. Instead, some entities have unnecessarily driven additional wedges between groups and created obstacles to our residents achieving their American Dream. We need more individuals and organizations to provide leadership and become partners in fixing our social problems instead of perpetuating stigma that further divides us. Our city’s future depends on it.