As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to be a very present reality for us as a Grenadian people and the wider world, it is important to address a growing associated psychological issue. This is the issue of Stigmatisation.
Stigmatisation refers to the negative associations we may attach to a person or a group of persons who may share certain characteristics, as well as a certain disease, in this case, the coronavirus. What this results in is labelling, stereotyping, discrimination and it can even escalate to acts of violence against persons or groups. In all of this, we must not confuse stigmatisation with reasonable exercise of caution to ensure our safety and that of others. An example of caution might be wearing protective gear as directed, and exercising social distancing when in public spaces. When stigmatisation leads to defaming an organisation or business place, verbal or physical threats against individuals and families because of their exposure to Covid-19, then it becomes extremely worrisome.
Why does Stigma exist and who is more likely to Stigmatise?
As human beings, we are designed with protective mental mechanisms that serve the purpose of protecting us from perceived threat. As such any new reality, experience or situation can serve as a source of psychological discomfort. Our brains may look at a novel situation and because it does not know what to make of it, it is wired to avoid it, fear it and/or create negative associations to it, in an attempt to simplify and justify its responses. Stigmatisation is an outgrowth of these psychological mechanisms which we all possess. So, any person or group can unknowingly partake in stigmatisation. In the same way, in times like these anyone of us can fall victim to discrimination.
What are the results of stigmatisation?
Stigmatised individuals, groups and their families may be subjected to social avoidance or rejection, denials of healthcare, housing or employment, verbal or even physical violence. It can also result in people hiding their illnesses and refusing to seek help from relevant authorities, or them being discouraged to take measures to stay safe. Furthermore, stigma affects the emotional or mental health of individuals, groups, communities and even the workplace employees. Stopping stigma is important to help make individuals and communities more resilient. Stigma affects us all!
How to reduce stigmatisation?
- Seek knowledge
Knowledge is the primary weapon against stigmatisation, because it uses facts to challenge unfounded beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. The more we learn about something that was initially new and troubling is the less scary it becomes. This results in more realistic judgements of situations and responses, as well as a more rational emotional response. Note that, this does not mean letting your guard down regarding rules of safety. Do research, learn as much as you can from trusted sources.
Avoid listening to fearmongers, that is persons who feed your irrational fears with rumours or opinions rather than factual information.
- Be Kind and empathise
Stigma against persons and their families, communities, healthcare workers or anyone who would have come in contact with Covid-19 positive persons hurts and creates fear. Let us support and be kind to Covid-19 positive persons by engendering hope of a full recovery. They might be struggling with guilt, sadness or even anger as they grapple with the illness. Remember the affected persons can be your neighbours, friends, co-workers, family members etc. Aren’t we all Grenadians?
- Watch your words
Take note of your words and what they convey. Don’t assign ethnicities or locations to the disease by naming the disease accordingly. Don’t refer to persons who may have contracted the disease as cases, victims or suspects. It creates a sense of suspicion and fear in the persons listening. Instead use words like “acquiring” or “contracting” instead of “transmitting”, “spreading” or “infecting”. The latter inspires fear and conveys that persons may be deliberately attempting to hurt others. Also, don’t give persons nicknames associated with their experiences, for example calling your neighbour “the covid man” or “case number two”. Avoid the harsh and cruel verbal maltreatment of employees associated with various workplaces who would have had positive cases.
- Be an advocate to help stop stigma
Speak out against negative behaviours, including negative statements on social media about groups of people, or exclusion of people who pose no risk from regular activities.
- Know that persons who survived Covid19 are now champions and survivors!
If you have been or are being affected by stigmatisation, the Psychosocial Unit of the Ministry of Social Development continues to provide psychosocial support during this time. Reach out to us via our helpline #440-4787. Remember that as loving, warmhearted Grenadians, the best way to get through this crisis is together. The trap of stigmatisation only serves to push us apart and increase risk, fear and hopelessness. Let us continue to support each other with truth, compassion and community. “Fight the virus, not the people” “Together we can. Together we unite!” ##End Stigma and Discrimination
Psychosocial Unit, Ministry of Social Development
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