Stigma Sucks and There’s Enough To Worry About Right Now

One chess pawn in a box while others are outside

Like many of you, I spend a lot of time thinking about COVID-19. I go to work and read the latest updates and try to find ways to get through my day in one piece. I also think a lot about what it’s like for someone who doesn’t work at the Health Unit who has to navigate through the abundance of information on their own. Who has the virus? Where is it? What does that mean for me? Can I go outside? Can my neighbour? These are some of the questions I imagine are running through your head.

Let me start by saying I do not have all the same fears about COVID-19 that others may have. I do, however, have to acknowledge the privilege I have to be able to work in public health with colleagues who have guided me along the way. There is a good chance I have easier access to the answers of questions; questions that may spark others’ anxiety. I cannot imagine how I would feel when my TV, newspaper, websites, and social media are all trying to tell me what I need to know - all at the same time.

This can cause anxiety and fear for many… and sometimes, even inadvertently, anger and stigma towards people who have contracted COVID-19. We are seeing issues come up for people who have been diagnosed and then being labeled as ‘careless’ or having ‘brought COVID-19 to the community’. Some people are even scared to get tested to avoid the stigma associated with a positive result. This is concerning and it makes it even more difficult for our community.

And honestly, sometimes it can be hard not to think in this way, especially when it seems like there are still so many unknowns. These are uncertain times -- it feels as though everyone we know, no matter their circumstances, is struggling. This can be extremely difficult and so, in this time of uncertainty, I encourage you to stand up for your friends, family, and community members who may be impacted by stigma.

It might also be useful to consider what can happen if the stigma becomes overwhelming or rampant, so I would like to highlight some of the impacts of stigma. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health notes that stigma from COVID-19 can cause:

  • Feelings of guilt for having the virus 
  • Reduced likelihood of getting tested in fear of discrimination
  • Avoidance of self-isolation to hide the fact they are sick
  • Increased anxiety, as the person has to worry about how to manage the discrimination

All of these impacts can worsen our mental health AND make it more difficult to contain the virus; essentially it’s a lose-lose situation. In these times, when we may be struggling with our mental health, let’s do our best to realign our thinking and support our friends, family, and community through COVID-19. I’ll leave behind some tips that may help:

  • Consider people’s privacy and avoid telling others if you know someone who has COVID-19. Keep this in mind when positive cases are reported online or in the news.
  • Try to maintain positive thinking. There are many steps involved in containing and preventing spread of the virus. Know that people who have COVID-19 have no reason to lie about where they have been or with whom they have come into contact with. For these reasons, we can do a good public health investigation which helps to keep people safe.
  • Speak out against stigmatizing behaviours when you see or hear them. Stand up for people who have COVID-19 so that they can focus on getting better and staying safe.

If you have been affected by stigma associated with COVID-19, know that you did not do anything wrong. Anyone can get sick with COVID-19 if they come into contact with the virus.

If you have mental health concerns, seek out support by calling 211, visiting 211north.ca, or visiting the Mental Health section of our website at TBDHU.com/mentalhealth