About a year into this pandemic, COVID-19 has dramatically changed the lives of billions of people around the world and over 2 million people have died. The longer we have been living in the pandemic, the more stigma has arisen around those who contract COVID-19. COVID-19 stigma is based in the fact that there is still much we do not understand about the virus, we are afraid of this unknown, and we associate that fear with ‘others’ and place blame on them. Public stigma and acts of discrimination have been recorded when people blame those who have coronavirus, refuse to let healthcare workers ride public transportation, and demonstrate acts of racism towards specific groups of people. This stigma can be harmful by adding to the stress of frontline workers, driving people to hide their illness, preventing people from seeking care, and causing emotional distress to those who are diagnosed.
Those with coronavirus can also experience self-stigma, the negative judgements towards oneself. COVID-19 self-stigma can make people have self-blame, shame, self-loathing and even suicidal thoughts. Having survived COVID-19 myself, I recognized that even I found myself hesitant to tell people about my illness and withdrew from talking to friends. I told myself I wasn’t careful enough and if I had just been ‘better’ then this wouldn’t have happened to me. I became ill close to the holidays and so I felt a lot of anger towards myself when I had to spend Christmas alone.
However, when I took a step back, I realized I was not to blame. I was a frontline healthcare worker treating people with a highly contagious virus. I had taken precautions and done my best. I thought my friends would be judgmental towards me, but instead when I finally told them, they were compassionate, concerned, and took the time to call me each day to check in. My self-stigmatizing thoughts had kept me from the support network I needed and made me feel angry and alone. However, once I recognized these thoughts as self-stigma, I found that I could take the lead in improving my mental health and my experience of COVID-19. I learned to be kind towards myself in my recovery.
I am not the only one who self-stigmatized and felt this way while having coronavirus. So it is important to recognize the emotional pain and self-judgements that those diagnosed with COVID-19 can experience-on top of the virus itself. I would ask everyone to watch their own judgements towards themselves or others with COVID-19, learn accurate information about the virus, and show compassion to everyone as we survive this pandemic together.
By: Camille Rich