During the COVID-19 pandemic we all feel worried about our health. It is natural that we react in different ways in response to the constant fear for our wellbeing. But one of the harmful coping mechanisms related to the current pandemic is the emergence of stigma associated with COVID-19 Some people can feel an urge to blame others, as fears about disease and death are exacerbated by gossip, myths, and stereotypes. The current COVID-19 outbreak has provoked social stigma caused by a lack of knowledge about the disease and how it spreads.
The stigma associated with COVID-19 is a significant barrier to global efforts to control the pandemic. The World Health Organization’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus emphasized that “This is the time for facts, not fear. This is the time for science, not rumors. This is the time for solidarity, not stigma”.
Stigma, and fear of being labeled a ‘danger to others’ are more likely to interfere with a delay in testing, denial of early clinical symptoms, and seeking timely medical treatment. The increased stigma associated with COVID-19 may also further worsen the psychological impact.
What is Stigma?
During an outbreak, stigma might surface in the form of people being labeled, stereotyped, and discriminated against. Such discrimination can have a negative impact on people suffering from the disease, as well as affect caregivers, family and friends, and even entire communities.
Why is COVID-19 Causing Stigma?
The level of stigma associated with COVID-19 is based on various factors such as:
- It is a new disease with many aspects still under investigation by the scientific community.
- Fear of the unknown, in this case the fear around contracting COVID-19 or fear of a loved one suffering from the disease.
- During the COVID-19 pandemic, confusion, anxiety, and fear has been fueling harmful stereotypes, especially against communities that are marginalized and have already been victims of discrimination.
How Does Stigma Associated with COVID-19 Affect People?
Stigma affects everyone. It can be a major factor forcing people to hide symptoms or illness, keep them from seeking health care immediately, and preventing individuals from adopting healthy behaviors. This also means that stigma makes it hard to control the spread of an outbreak.
Stigma can affect the emotional, mental, and physical health of individuals, undermine social cohesion and prompt possible social isolation of groups, which might contribute to a situation where the virus is more, not less, likely to spread.
What Can You do to Fight Stigma Associated with COVID-19?
We, as individuals, have an important role to play in preventing stigma around us. Showing empathy to those affected, understanding the nature of the disease, and adopting effective, practical measures can help keep people safe.
1. Be Considerate
Each of us has a role in preventing discrimination through kindness, speaking up against negative stereotypes, learning more about mental health, and sharing individual experiences to provide a support mechanism for each other.
2. Separate Facts from False Information
Stigma can be heightened by lack of knowledge, such as the transmissibility of the Novel Coronavirus and how to prevent infection. Here are some steps to help avoid the spread of misinformation:
- Use only credible, official sources such as the National Health Ministries and World Health Organization (WHO).
- Don’t spread information before verifying its authenticity, even if it seems accurate.
3. Use Social Media Responsibly
Take care of all do’s and don’ts while using social media interactions, what you post, or share can influence someone. While keeping a positive and constructive attitude toward other people, nationalities, and ethnicities, only share information from authentic sources.
Taking Care of Your Mental Health During COVID-19
When emergencies such as COVID-19 occur, it is normal to have psychological reactions such as feeling scared, suffering from anxiety, and fearing the worst. However, these reactions can affect or cause an emotional imbalance when they are consistent.
- Identify your emotions, worries, and fears.
- Talk to a trusted person: tell him what is happening and how you feel.
- Do different activities: do not focus only on the COVID-19 situation.
- Take necessary protective measures: such as not leaving the house if it is not necessary, washing your hands, having emergency numbers on hand, etc.
- Choose only a moment to see news about the topic.
- Exercise or recreational activities from home.
- Maintain sleep schedules.
- Do self-care activities: activities that you like.
- Receive psychological care.
- In the case of having children, adolescents, or older adults, it is important to maintain constant communication with these people.
- Strengthen support networks through phone calls, video calls that allow us to stay connected with our families and friends.
- Remember that this pandemic is going to end.
You can also read our article on taking care of your mental health during COVID-19.
Talk to an Expert
If you’re experiencing stress, fear, or stigma during the pandemic, think about talking to an expert about it. If you need Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS), call at:
Helpline number: 0800-77657
Timing: 9am – 5pm (Monday to Friday)
Languages: Urdu, Pashto
Helpline number: 0800-77678
Timing: 9am – 5pm (Monday to Friday)
Languages: Urdu, Brahvi, Balochi and Pashto
Government of Sindh
The Sindh government has also launched a tele-counselling service (1093) for the confirmed and suspected Covid-19 patients to help them cope with the psychological impact of coronavirus pandemic. This helpline functions 24 hours a day, seven days week.
Sehat Tahaffuz Helpline
You can visit the Government of Pakistan COVID-19 Health Advisory Platform to get updates on the situation. You can also call the Sehat Tahaffuz Helpline at 1166 made available by the Ministry of National Health Services Regulations & Coordination, Government of Pakistan.
To receive personalized guidance on different service options in the country, you can send us a private message on the Bolo Facebook page, Monday to Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.