The pandemic has changed our perception and our way of life in so many ways. While much of the population has experienced some sort of lifestyle modifications, the challenges have been far greater for individuals that have been directly affected by COVID-19. Many people who have contracted COVID-19 have reported various physical/cognitive challenges, anxiety, depression, and in some cases post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition to the physical and mental health problems caused by COVID-19, the stigma associated with the virus is also of concern.
Social stigma, when it comes to an illness, is the negative association related to people or a group who have a particular illness in common. Historically, epidemic outbreaks come with stigma and discrimination. These earlier outbreaks have shown us the extent to which stigmatization can hamper critical response to epidemics. Stigma around COVID-19 exists because it is a new disease that we do not know much about, and often we fear what we do not know. In addition, it is easy to associate that fear with ‘others.’ However, these types of perceptions can negatively impact those affected by the virus as well as the frontline healthcare workers.
Emerging evidence indicates that mental distress like anxiety, stress, and depression experienced by healthcare workers and affected individuals is further exasperated by stigma. Many who have contracted COVID-19, have had to face the fear of community rejection, isolation, and refusal of services even after full recovery. Such experiences can cause social disturbances and interfere with the fight against COVID‐19. Stigma encourages affected people to either hide their symptoms or delay seeking treatment which promotes unhealthy behaviors among the general population and hinders the measures against COVID-19.
Lack of information or misinformation are key contributors to fear and discrimination and should be considered in strategies to alleviate stigma. COVID‐19 related information should be communicated concisely and in a culturally appropriate manner. While creating awareness, precautionary procedures such as quarantine, and self‐isolation should be destigmatized. The information shared through the media needs to be accurate and should promote hope and unity in expanding public trust and confidence. Public-health and health care professionals need to address the unique psychosocial concerns faced by people who have had COVID-19 and healthcare workers. Coping strategies and stress management skills can significantly improve the quality of life for these individuals and it can also assist health workers in avoiding burnout.
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