Are Discrimination, Fear, and Stigma also the symptoms of Coronavirus?

Coronavirus or COVID-19 disease has affected people from many countries and in January 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared it as a Public Health Emergency. Many experts today believe that it is not just important to understand the virus, but also to understand the relationship between mental health & COVID-19. For this outbreak, people are not just fighting the Virus but are also managing – Stigma, Fear, and Discrimination

So, why is it important to understand about the mental health aspect of COVID-19 disease?

Along with the outbreak of COVID-19, there is also an increase in the anxiety that people are experiencing. So, it’s really important to think about mental health as part of the public health response to COVID-19. In emergency situations, mental health can decline in the population and there can be a high rate of mental health conditions. So, the people who might be vulnerable to experiencing mental stress during this time include people who have pre-existing mental health conditions or who might represent other vulnerable groups. So, protection from COVID-19 along with the protection from stress and fear is important as well.

As there’s a lot of fear spreading around the new Coronavirus, should people actually be scared or is it the result of the spread of misinformation that people see in social media? 

Fear is a response to an actual threat or danger and closely linked to it, is anxiety, worry, or stress which come about when things are uncertain, unknown, or unclear to people. As COVID-19 is a new virus and people are still learning about it, it naturally can elicit these types of feelings. Fear and anxiety are a part of the normal response to a situation and many things can cause fear and one of those things is misinformation and rumors. They are something that can exacerbate people’s fear.

Fear can be managed in COVID-19 situations by knowing about facts and these facts can be obtained from credible or trusted scientific sources. In terms of fear, many people might not even know that they are experiencing any fear or worry while some people might know, as fear can express itself in many different ways. People in fear might experience a lot of questions that they are asking themselves or a high number of thoughts that they can have like how can I protect myself, how can I protect others, what’s going to happen with my workplace, etc. These are very natural questions and if someone is asking these questions then he/she should be encouraged to get the facts and know the answers.

Fear is something that is designed to keep us safe by making us take actions to keep ourselves safe. But sometimes the actions that we take might be inadvertently harmful to ourselves or to others and it includes things like stigma, which includes panic-like behaviors or over watching distressing sources of information.  So, sometimes fear can be both helpful and keep us safe but also could be harmful and it’s important how do we manage it.

Other than fear, there’s a lot of discrimination and stigma that people are experiencing during the COVID-19 situation. What can be the solution to these problems?

Stigma or health-related stigma is something that can arise where a sense of disapproval or shame is attributed to a person because of their association with a health condition. It can result in the experiences of rejection, exclusion, or acts of discrimination and these acts of discrimination can be very harmful physically or mentally for that group.

Stigma can be fought by the correct use of language as words are very powerful and they can be used to create or minimize stigma. People should be encouraged not to attribute COVID-19 to any specific socio-demographic i.e. any to ethnicity, nationality, or geography.

COVID-19 has affected people from various backgrounds and it’s a global issue and therefore it’s important not to attach it to a particular identity group because it can cause acts of discrimination towards that group of people.

People should prefer to say ‘a person has COVID-19’ or ‘a person is recovering from COVID-19’ rather than attaching the label to the person as ‘COVID-19 case’ or ‘COVID-19 family’. Language can be used to minimize stigma by not using terms such as ‘victims’ or ‘suspected cases’ as these words can arise anxiety in people and it’s better to use alternative phrasing.

Stigma and discrimination can be minimized by spreading messages which evoke empathy, compassion, and kindness like stories of recovery or loved ones supporting a person who is unwell during that time or about the community supporting each other.

COVID-19 is clearly impacting our personal and professional lives, however, we can overcome this challenging period, if we all stay together. Stay positive, take care and we will pass through this difficult situation.