As Wendy’s family slowly recovered from COVID, she worried not only about the long-term physical effects on her family, but also about the social stigma of having caught the virus at all. Particularly in a community where case numbers have traditionally been relatively low.
Photo supplied by Unsplash.com.
Wendy's concerns were real. People did have reactions as she and her family began to get back to their old routines. Some reactions she’d anticipated. Others caught her by surprise. Fortunately, she had support around her to think about most of these reactions in advance. She also had the support of her work and other organisations to help manage some of the ‘messaging’ so others had the same opportunity.
What is social stigma?
Social stigma stems from a fear of the unknown which can result in the need to blame others, along with the complications that misinformation brings. It results in people being labelled, stereotyped, and treated negatively due to a link with this virus. The stigma can extend to family or friends, or even whole communities.
One frontline health worker confirmed this. “As much as I’d like to say there is no stigma involved in COVID, I see in my job how people react. I think in places with more exposure and more cases, they get a bit more immune to the fear of it. Here, we’ve had minimal cases, so there is more stigma involved. I see it a lot.”
The deadly impact of stigma
To avoid stigma, people are driven to hide the illness or prevent others from seeking the health care they need. Tragically around the world this has played out a number of times, where individuals passed away at home without having sought any medical help, or who only tested positive to the virus when it was too late to receive life-saving medical intervention. Don’t let our community be an
Kill it with kindness
UNICEF states that social stigma can be challenged with kindness and empathy.
“Each one of us has a role to play in preventing discrimination through kindness, speaking up against negative stereotypes, learning more about mental health and sharing individual experiences to provide the support needed.”
There are some critical steps everyone can take to smash social stigma:
Speak out against negative stereotypes and correct misconceptions, rumours and misinformation.
Share individual experiences to provide support to others (just like Wendy has done)
Remember that words matter and can perpetuate stigmatising attitudes or people’s feelings of isolation, fear and loneliness. So be kind and choose your words carefully.
Insufficient knowledge and misinformation can encourage stigma. Check information on credible websites (not what some ‘influencer’ said on Instagram) such as your State’s Health Department, UNICEF or WHO. This article uses all of those sources.
COVID does not discriminate. It can affect anyone no matter what their nationality, location, age or cultural background. So please remember - there is never a place for fear or anger towards people who have been in self-isolation due to illness - this only serves to fuel the spread of the virus. And you have the power to stop it with a little kindness.
This is the last article in our 5-day series developed by the network of Neighbourhood Houses in Hepburn Shire (Trentham Neighbourhood Centre, Daylesford Neighbourhood Centre, Creswick Neighbourhood Centre and Clunes Neighbourhood House). The series was made possible by the generosity of Wendy's family who were happy to share their story. Each article is designed to help provide us with some insight into what living with COVID might mean and how individually – and together - we can prepare for it.
AUTHOR: Lana de Kort.