Check out Shift founder and registered psychologist Andrea McTague’s interview on this topic on CBC’s Edmonton AM show with Mark Connolley here!

COVID 19 Related Stigma and Bias

Stigma and bias around COVID 19 may actually worsen the impacts of the disease; we have seen that with other health concerns in the past. Stigma can be directed at individuals as well as groups and communities, and can come in the form of labeling, avoidance and blaming, for example. People often internalize this stigma and direct it towards themselves as well. Some of the groups that are experiencing this stigma include:

  • Essential service workers
  • Front line workers
  • Racial and ethnic groups
  • Individuals who have tested positive for COVID 19
  • Individuals with symptoms
  • Marginalized groups
  • People living in group settings
  • People who have conditions that make it difficult to follow recommendations

There are many negative impacts of this stigma and bias, and one of the biggest ones is that individuals who are having symptoms may be compelled to hide these symptoms to avoid discrimination. This means they don’t seek out the help and care that they need, which can be damaging for their health and for the health of those around them as well.

In addition, the stigma and bias can have negative impacts on mental health as well. For example, those experiencing symptoms may further isolate themselves from society, and those who test positive are likely to experience some level of guilt and shame.

Where Does This Stigma Come From?

There are a few reasons that we’re seeing this stigma and bias. The virus is still new to us and there are still many unknowns around it. This means that there is a lack of understanding and even some misinformation, which leads to stigma and bias. The fear response is meant to be protective, but it is often emotional. The responses thus come from the emotional part of our brain, and not the more rational and cognitive part.

Humans don’t like not knowing stuff, especially when there is an aspect of fear involved, so we sometimes fill in the holes in our knowledge with inaccurate information in an effort to understand what’s going on around us. Unfortunately, this can have very negative impacts like bias.

What Can We Do About It?

There are a few things that we can do, both as individuals and as a society, to reduce COVID 19 related stigma and biases:

  1. Be aware. A good first step is to acknowledge the fact that we all have biases, no person is exempt from this. Catch yourself in the act and ask yourself where that belief came from, and how true (or false) it really is.
  2. Educate yourself. Learn as much as you can about the disease and how it spreads before coming to conclusions in your mind. Gather your information from multiple reliable sources.
  3. Encourage openness. In social groups, families, workplaces and schools, encourage more transparency and less shaming. Recognize as well that it is actually responsible behaviour for individuals to get tested, and this helps the community as a whole.
  4. Be kind. This is very simple but important. Put yourself in the shoes of others and treat people with compassion.
  5. Seek support. If you notice that you or someone else is having difficulties with managing your emotional responses or overcoming your biases, there may be something deeper going on, with limiting beliefs for example. Be encouraged or encourage others to seek help to explore this with the help of a professional such as a therapist.