Break the Stigma Surrounding COVID-19
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Break the Stigma Surrounding COVID-19

20 August 2020

Amid the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic, officially known as COVID-19, many people have been receiving undeserved discrimination. Social stigma has the potential to threaten both the physical and mental health of those affected, which may cause them to hide their illness, delay seeking treatment and refrain from adopting healthy behaviours. It’s up to all of us to make sure we not only address this problem, but also prevent it, particularly as lockdown measures may be reduced in the near future.

Social stigma occurs when fear, anxiety and misinformation about something causes you to associate it with a specific person or group of people. And with fear surrounding COVID-19 in particular, anxiety levels may be higher than usual if you’re misinformed. Education is one of the most important factors in combatting the problem.

Some groups of people who may be experiencing stigma due to the COVID-19 pandemic include:

  • Persons of Asian descent
  • People who have travelled
  • Emergency responders and healthcare professionals
  • People who show signs of the flu or a cold
  • People who have recovered from COVID-19

What Are the Effects of Stigma?

Stigma commonly takes the form of physical violence, gossip, social rejection and denial of services including, healthcare, education, housing and employment. If someone has already been diagnosed with a mental health issue such as depression, anxiety or stress, social stigma could elevate their symptoms, making it even more difficult for them to cope.

It’s worth noting that you don’t have to experience stigma from external influences to be affected by it. The anticipation of how others might perceive you could negatively impact your mental health. For example, if you’ve recovered from COVID-19 and seen others who’ve had the disease being judged or ostracised, you may become anxious that you’ll be treated the same way.

Furthermore, being afraid of social stigma surrounding COVID-19 could also negatively affect your health. How? People may be less likely to seek treatment if they suspect they have been infected when they consider how others have been treated.

Fighting COVID-19 Social Stigma

These are three things you can do to address the problem – starting today.

1. Don’t Use Labels

To avoid stigma, if you know people who have been affected by COVID-19, it’s important that you separate their identity from the illness. Here are some guidelines:

  • Do not refer to people with the condition as ‘COVID-19 victims’
  • Do not refer to the family of an infected person as a ‘COVID-19 family’
  • When you are referring to anyone with the condition, refer to them as ‘someone who has COVID-19’ or ‘someone recovering from COVID-19’
  • Don’t make assumptions. For instance, if you see someone you know at a hospital, don’t assume they are there to be tested for COVID-19. In addition, don’t share your assumption with others. Spreading unconfirmed information could result in this person being stigmatised.

2. Stick to the Facts

Knowing the facts can help you prevent the spread of fake information and thus prevent stigma.

According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), the Coronavirus spreads from person to person. It mainly spreads via respiratory droplets, which are produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or exhales. This is why the majority of cases occur when there’s close physical contact between people. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests these prevention tips:

  • Wash your hands with warm water and soap
  • Use hand sanitiser with at least 60% alcohol if you don’t have access to soap and water
  • Practise physical distancing and stand 1 to 2 metres away from others when you are out getting essentials
  • Cover your mouth and nose by coughing or sneezing into the crook of your elbow or a tissue, which you must dispose of immediately

And remember:

  • Get accurate COVID-19 information, based on scientific data, from reputable sources. These include the official government COVID-19 website, the WHO and NICD.
  • Don’t repeat or share unconfirmed information
  • Avoid using language that could spread fear, such as ‘plague’, ‘apocalypse’, etc.

3. Don’t Reinforce Stigma

  • Maintain the privacy of those who have tested positive for COVID-19, including that of their family
  • Speak out against stigma (online or in person), for example if someone is sharing negative statements about groups of people or specific individuals
  • Interrogate information and its sources before you share it online
  • Continue to treat all people with dignity
  • Share positive news about COVID-19, such as the number of recoveries in your city. This assists in reducing fear and if people are less fearful, stigma is less likely to surface.

This article is published courtesy of CareWays.

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